Education for a Global Future: A Conversation with Karl Dean

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In September Karl F. Dean joined the Tennessee World Affairs Council as a member of the Board of Directors as he finished his second term as Mayor of Nashville, demonstrating an ongoing commitment to global affairs education and awareness and to inspiring the community, especially students, to know more about the world.

In eight years as Mayor, Dean provided leadership in all areas of Nashville’s achievements and advancements. No area was more important to him than the prospects of the next generation through education.

Last April in his 2015 “State of Metro” address then Mayor Dean said:

“Seven years ago, I gave my very first State of Metro address… I wanted to make a statement then, and – while much about our city has changed over the past seven years – the statement is the same today: In Nashville, education and learning must always come first.

“Education is what our city has to focus on first and foremost if we want to keep growing and getting better. Education is the key that will open the door of opportunity for our children, and it’s the key for Nashville.”

The New York Times columnist and author Thomas Friedman, who popularized the notion of globalization in his book, “The World is Flat,” said that what we are witnessing in the world is not a passing fad. He said that globalization is the new international system that replaced the old Cold War system. The integration of capital, technology and information has created a global economy and we must prepare ourselves and our children to operate in that environment through education.

Friedman and others who talk about what the global economy means to American prosperity know that our future is tied to how much Americans know about the world. This is the mission of the Tennessee World Affairs Council, to inspire and educate people about the world beyond our borders.

Today we are pleased to share a conversation with Dean where he talks about why he thinks global competency is important and what the World Affairs Council means to Nashville and beyond.

What was it about the Tennessee World Affairs Council that attracted you to join its mission of educating and inspiring people to know more about what’s going on in the world?

KarlDean[Karl Dean] My number one priority as mayor and something that certainly has continued into my days after leaving the office is education. I believe education is absolutely the most critical thing for the State of Tennessee and the City of Nashville.

An important part of education is understanding the world that we live in. So what really struck me about the Tennessee World Affairs Council was the work it does with education in our public schools. It brings information to young people about world affairs which is a vital role for many reasons.

Number one. Being a good citizen and understanding the world is such an important part of what makes this county work. If you have been watching the presidential debates you know a good portion of them focus on foreign affairs and national security.

Foreign affairs obviously has much to do with how well our country is doing at any particular point for our prosperity and security. Having a fundamental understanding of the world is, I believe, absolutely essential for a well-rounded citizen.

Then you look at our future. I believe the future, particularly in the area of business, is going to be more and more dependent on America’s position in the world and how well our people are able to navigate in a global environment.

Opportunities for people to get jobs are going to be dependent on their understanding of the world and their ability to communicate about the world.

IMG_6916Tennesse is certainly a state where international business has boosted its economic fortunes. There is the close relationship we have with Canada one of the major sources of business in the state. There is trade and investment with Japan, which is enormous in Tennessee. There is the United Kingdom and many other countries in Europe that are important trading partners with businesses in our state. International business is growing.

It’s not just global companies from overseas doing business here. Nashville is the home base to many companies that operate outside the United States in every corner of the world. So having an understanding of world affairs helps you to be involved in Tennessee-based global businesses.

You should also look at the fact that Nashville and the State of Tennessee are becoming much more diverse. There are more and more people moving into our state from other parts of the world. Nashville has gone from, in the last 10 or 12 years, from two percent foreign born to 12 percent foreign born.

Just look around our city and see all the different nationalities that are represented here. You can go into the public schools and see about 80 different languages spoken.

Nashville is a global city. The signs are everywhere around us. I believe understanding world affairs makes you appreciate more and more the “global Nashville” our city has become.

So, my interest in the Tennessee World Affairs Council comes down to the belief that understanding the world is important; that being educated about the world and world affairs is important.

It is also important to note that the Tennessee World Affairs Council is unique in that it is not political. It does not have an agenda. It is not partisan. Its sole focus is on getting people more informed about world affairs. That is, I believe, vitally important for all citizens to be informed, especially our young people.

Nashville will continue to become more of a global city in business and in the people who visit and the people who live here. That’s what attracted me to the Tennessee World Affairs Council.

You pointed out the importance of educating young people about the world. In what ways does the Tennessee World Affairs Council help in that goal?

[KD] As I learned about the World Affairs Council I was really impressed by the Academic WorldQuest program. It is basically like a “quiz bowl.”

awq-contest-12Teams are formed among high school studies who are encouraged to keep up with current events and to dive deep into ten global topics to prepare for matches. Along the way the students review study materials, participate in weekly quizzes and follow the Council’s social media for global affairs news and resources.

There is a state championship match with the winning students and their coach moving on to a national competition in Washington against teams from many of the 95 other World Affairs Councils around the country.

While in Washington the Tennessee team is escorted to a variety of international affairs venues — embassies, think tanks, government and non-government agencies, and meetings with their elected representatives — to give them a special opportunity to see inside the foreign affairs establishment.

Whether on the state championship team or not, all of the students develop habits and interests in global affairs awareness. To have Nashville kids and other kids in Tennessee in a position where they can talk knowledgeably about world affairs and answer questions indicative of how much they’ve learned puts them in a great position when they go to college. That sort of knowledge is the knowledge that they’ll use in different classes, that they’ll use when they pick extracurricular activities to be involved in and that they’ll use when they’re looking for a job. I think that’s fantastic.

So, I believe WorldQuest is a great program for high schools to get involved in because it gives them a pathway to introduce kids to world affairs and get them interested. It gets them reading the newspaper and following current events.

kislyak-belmont-townhallI’m a big believer, and I’ve said this to my kids often, if they just read a newspaper every day, a good newspaper every day, and not skip the international affairs area you’re really going to get a good education. And if you keep up with what’s going on it’s just going to build and build and build.

Of course there are many other programs at the Council — both available now and on the drawing board — that are aimed at giving students the opportunity to know the world better.

Getting kids started in understanding the world around us is something that I’m very supportive of and it really attracted me to the World Affairs Council.

You mentioned the World Affairs Council provides programs for the community beyond the schoolhouse. What else does it do?

[KD] One of the terrific things the Council does is to bring distinguished speakers to the city. We benefit from the fact that Nashville is a large city. It is a city with lots of international business, lots of universities. So we’re in a position where we can attract very good speakers to the city.

IMG_1066Whether it’s hearing from a foreign ambassador or listening to a business leader, or interacting with a scholar who has specialized in a particular area of the world, these are fascinating discussions. They are opportunities that are not readily available to a lot of people in other parts of the country or other parts of the state. Imagine sitting down and talking with the Russian Ambassador about what’s going on in the relationship and in the world. That’s something you can’t get anywhere else.

These programs are available in Nashville. I would encourage people to take advantage of these opportunities. The World Affairs Council is doing a great job bringing speaker programs and panels here.

How do the global affairs awareness programs fit into Nashville’s profile as an international city?

[KD] Well, first, the cities that are really going to do well in the next 20-30 years are going to be the cities that attract the most college graduates, the cities that have the most creative people and the cities that have the most creative and entrepreneurial economies.

To accomplish those things a city needs to have ties to the rest of the world. A city needs to be a global city. And Nashville is blessed with the fact that we have lots of international businesses here.

brianna.langley.jeremy.goldkornWe have local companies that are playing in the international field and selling products around the world. And we have companies from other countries that have located here.

We have great universities here. We have a strong chamber of commerce that is involved in international commercial affairs.

So when you bring people together — private, public and nonprofit sectors — working to emphasize Nashville as a global city, the prospects are really enormous for the city’s future.

When you add into that the increasing number of people who are visiting Nashville or are living here who are from somewhere else it gets even more interesting.

As I mentioned in about ten years we have grown to about twelve percent foreign born residents in Nashville. Immigrants are attracted to our city. They’re attracted to the city because of the strong economy, because of the diversity that’s here and because of this sense that it is an interesting, good, high quality place to live with lots of opportunities.

To be a city of opportunity you really have to be a global city.

It will be a lot of fun to work on advancing Nashville as a global city and see where that goes.

What do you want people to take away about the World Affairs Council.

[KD] I would encourage folks to take advantage of the fact that we have a World Affairs Council. Whether it’s WorldQuest in public schools — teachers and students organizing teams, or whether it’s coming to hear visiting distinguished speakers, or if it’s just joining to be member supporting global affairs awareness in the community and helping guide the organization, I say they should do it.

Clearly the future of the city is going to include more international connections. It’s going to be about being educated about the world and being involved in making Nashville a truly global city, I think is a good thing.

The Tennessee World Affairs Council President Patrick Ryan sat down with former Nashville Mayor Karl F. Dean on December 18, 2015 for this conversation.

Karl F. Dean is a member of the Board of Directors of the Tennessee World Affairs Council.  [Bio]

The Tennessee World Affairs Council relies on your membership and gifts to support these programs. Visit 

Corporate sponsorship opportunities are available – contact (931-261-2353)

The Tennessee World Affairs Council is a nonprofit (501c3), nonpartisan educational charity based in Nashville that works to build understanding of global issues in our communities. Learn more about the Council and find how you can join, donate and volunteer at:  

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