Theses Doctoral

Honoring the Many Faces of Global Citizens: A Mixed-Methods Study of Transnational Youth’s Negotiations with Global Citizenship Education

Bradt, Nancy Ku

This mixed-methods study explores how transnational high school students in the U.S. understand and experience a kind of curriculum called global citizenship education (GCE) and how GCE might influence them to think or act, in conjunction with how the students’ perspectives may differ based on their intersecting identities, particularly the categories of socioeconomic status (SES), race, and gender. Transnational students are defined as young people who maintain substantial connections with multiple nations in the form of affective attachments, physical movements, and flows of ideas. Practically, young people approximately 14-19 years of age, who attend high school in the U.S. and have lived in at least one other country, qualified for this study.

In the past two decades, GCE has received increasingly more attention from K-12 schools and education research. While GCE is being promoted as learning that is useful to prepare young people for globalization and our unpredictable future, there is currently a small body of existing literature on how students understand and experience GCE. As such, informed by postcolonial/decolonial theories, as well as a view of curriculum as being dialogic and agentively constructed by students as they learn, I foreground the voices and experiences of youth as they engage with GCE. I began with a qualitative phase, including image-elicitation focus groups, semi-structured individual interviews, and optional final projects, where a visual component served the participatory purpose of encouraging youth to direct the research and to represent their ideas in a form beyond language. Preliminary analysis of the qualitative data informed the construction of a quantitative survey, which received 33 completed responses via Qualtrics.

The survey shows that the students more readily take up GCE as skills and (conceptual) understandings rather than as concrete bodies of (factual) knowledge that they have acquired, and that the youth perceive GCE to more powerfully influence them to develop their thinking rather than to change in their actions, particularly in response to social justice issues. This raises questions around how educators should best determine the goals and content of GCE programs and practical constraints around promoting “critical” versus “soft” forms of GCE. Secondly, the qualitative participants each took up GCE differently, suggesting that one key strength of this kind of curriculum can be its broad and inclusive nature, allowing individuals to adopt it in ways that make sense for them. In addition, strong and effective GCE consists of learning that takes into account, or even better, actively leverages students’ existing knowledge and skills, cultural backgrounds, and interests.

Thirdly, GCE seems to compete with the demands of assignments, grades, and other credentials students must accumulate to be admitted to college, particularly when such curricula are not integrated into the planned activities of the school day. The students are also quite attached to place, including both in-person learning and face-to-face interactions with friends and family, which is in tension with a deterritorialized framing of GCE with lofty goals for all humanity. One implication is the importance of accounting for the meaning of specific physical places in youths’ lives as we consider the goals and purposes of GCE programs.

Finally, qualitative data highlight that the intersecting identities, especially the categories of SES and race, in the context of structural inequalities in U.S. education, really make a difference in how transnational youth take up GCE. The survey adds gender as another layer, showing that girls perceive GCE to include a broader range of topics, that more activities at school contribute to their GCE, and that they are more influenced by GCE to think and act differently. As we tailor GCE to suit students’ backgrounds and attachments to place, identities may be a useful tool to help us think about how structural forces may shape the way students take up GCE and adjust programs accordingly. Of course, we must also remain attentive to the fact that perhaps GCE will always be implicated in structural inequalities, and as such, to continue to resist simply essentializing students based on broad identity categories. In the above ways, this study contributes to further research and theorizing about how GCE can better serve the needs of not only transnational but all youth.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Curriculum and Teaching
Thesis Advisors
Friedrich, Dani
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
June 15, 2022