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I usually do not address international aspects of education policy and practice, but this one is a doozy.


Yesterday, ace Carolina Journal reporter Dan Way brought a fascinating yet frightening UNESCO email to my attention.  The organization announced a new campaign that calls on teachers "to become advocates for education to help lobby for progress toward achieving the new sustainable development agenda."

First, what is the sustainable development agenda? "Transforming our world: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development" was a resolution adopted by the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 25, 2015.  They describe it as a "plan of action for people, planet and prosperity" and to that end outline 17 goals and 169 targets.  Goals are as follows:

  • Goal 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  • Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
  • Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
  • Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning
  • Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  • Goal 6: Ensure access to water and sanitation for all
  • Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
  • Goal 8: Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all
  • Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
  • Goal 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries
  • Goal 11: Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  • Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
  • Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
  • Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources
  • Goal 15: Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss
  • Goal 16: Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies
  • Goal 17: Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

Setting aside the specific details and the environmentalist claptrap, a number of these goals are innocuous or even laudable.  Who wouldn’t want to see an end to poverty or hunger?

But details matter. 

It’s been well established that the United Nations is not a fan of the free market or competition. Only governments and their allies, coordinating with one another to advance the interests of the whole, have the capacity to improve the overall well being of humans.  For example, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development states that "sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth" is only possible "if wealth is shared and income inequality is addressed" (p. 8).  They promote "fundamental changes in the way that our societies produce and consume goods and services" (p. 8) and want to "work with local authorities and communities to renew and plan our cities and human settlements so as to foster community cohesion and personal security and to stimulate innovation and employment" (p. 9)

Wealth redistribution?  Check.

Controlling the means of production and consumption?  Check.

Dictating where and how people live and work?  Check.

It would sound like a conspiracy theory or movie plot if it weren’t so clearly spelled out in the text of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Second, what is the role of teachers?  Enter the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization or UNESCO. 

Obviously, the Agenda will receive little support from citizens in some UN member nations, including the United States, if those governments promote it directly and exclusively.  Progressives realized in the early twentieth century that compulsory and universal systems of government schooling are an ideal vehicle for inculcating values and transforming behavior of emerging generations of citizens.  It continues to be one of the central tenets of twenty-first century liberalism, socialism, and internationalism (see Quote of the Week below).

True to form, the UNESCO email states,

Teachers are indeed central to the success of the new goals, not only because how they teach is essential to providing a quality education, but also because what they teach is of utmost importance to being able to ensure systems of governance, and promote global citizenship, gender equality, dignity and justice for all.

The email links to the Advocacy Toolkit for Teachers to Provide a Quality Education, which includes suggestions for teachers,

Start the change in your own classroom and be a good example others can follow. Your voice will have more impact when you can show how well your students have learned.


Your students can help snowball your calls for change. Teach them about levering their voices on social media using #teachlearn in their tweet, to join a common online conversation and help lobby politicians, the press and the world. Next, get your school colleagues on board, and begin a school-wide reform. Speak up!

…and unions,

Lobby your trade union get the agenda on their list of priorities.

In the short term, the UN’s sustainable development agenda is destined to fail.  There is little incentive for totalitarian regimes and communist nations to adhere to it.  The same is true for much of the developed world.  The long-term prospects are a different story.  The UN’s idea of "sustainability" has clearly made inroads in North America, Asia, and Europe, and the United States continues to inch closer to the UN ideal.

Acronym of the Week

UNESCO — United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

Quote of the Week

"Education is a public good, of which the state is the duty bearer. Education is a shared societal endeavour, which implies an inclusive process of public policy formulation and implementation. Civil society, teachers and educators, the private sector, communities, families, youth and children all have important roles in realizing the right to quality education.  The role of the state is essential in setting and regulating standards and norms."

– UNESCO, "Education  2030: Incheon  Declaration and Framework  for  Action," October 27, 2015, p. 6

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