The Global Challenge

Working just two blocks from the United Nations made this past week’s gathering of world leaders a decidedly local affair. Demonstrators draped in the Iranian flag chatted in the pizza line. Snippets of unfamiliar conversation hung in the air as people passed by. A blend of ages, nationalities, cultures, and races waited patiently together at the street corner to weave through traffic brought to a standstill, jammed between security barricades and ubiquitous NYPD officers. It was a glorious display of the global human family; amid the noise, crowds, and inconvenience, we all managed to get along.

Inside the UN, however, the superficial ease of the street gave way to the hard work of international relations. Conflicts were and remain real, and differences great. Power and position were used to persuade, cajole, challenge, confront, and implore the world to action.

In a September 23 op-ed piece in the New York Times, Great Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown wrote:

The next six months will test international cooperation more severely than at any time since 1945. That may seem strange to say after a year of global crisis that has demanded unity on an immense scale, yet five urgent challenges confront us and we cannot delay our responses. Crucial meetings this week in New York and Pittsburgh will determine by next spring whether a new era of collaboration is possible.

He went on to identify those five key challenges: halting climate change, renewing economic prosperity, fighting terrorism, ending nuclear proliferation, and overcoming poverty. Solving these problems, Brown asserted, will require a new level of collective global action. Will we be up to it?

So it is with our schools. The daily encounters with one another often help us to best see and appreciate the variety of gifts in our community. They give us a sense of a shared journey. We are reassured that we are in this together, even in our differences.

But like the challenges articulated by Prime Minister Brown, there are large and thorny issues that demand our attention. Heads and rectors, boards and vestries, alumni, faculties and parent associations—each experiences the school in its own way. This multiplicity of perspectives makes it more difficult, not less difficult, to create a shared vision and to take action for common goals while attending to particular needs. Leaders are challenged to use their authority wisely, to articulate the shared goals that shall define and sustain the school into the future, and to be courageous in pushing others to collective action.

How can we tap the richness and variety of gifts in our schools to shared purpose? What are the key challenges facing own school for which “we cannot delay our response?” How can our school address the complex human issues facing our planet, and how shall we help our students, the next generation, to face and solve them more ably?