I came across this article while looking for expat news to tweet. I know we’ve discussed American exceptionalism quite a bit and could easily blame most of this lack of knowledge on indifference (“Hey, who cares, everybody knows America is the greatest place on earth, why should I care or bother about anybody/anyplace else?”) but the author gives perplexing statistics that really surprised me.
In addition to Sarah Palin claiming she could see Russia from her house (see http://www.snopes.com/politics/palin/seealaska.asp for explanation of how SNL involved in creating misquote) and Paul Ryan referring to Canada as “overseas,” maybe it’s not such a big jump???
“A 2007 study conducted by a George Washington University researcher showed that our seeming indifference about other countries and cultures begins at a very early age in American school systems.” Among some of the findings (emphases mine):
- 25 percent of U.S. high school students who were bound for college couldn’t name the ocean that lies between California and Asia
- 80 percent of the surveyed students didn’t know that India is the world’s largest democracy
- 80 percent of the surveyed students couldn’t point out places like Israel on a global map
A separate 2012 survey conducted by the nonprofit education company World Savvy, along with the International Baccalaureate Organization demonstrated:
- 78 percent of the students didn’t know that Mandarin is the most commonly spoken language in the world
- 45 percent thought the most common was English
- 77 percent of respondents couldn’t identify Canada as America’s largest trade partner
- 72 percent had no idea what region Afghanistan was in
“And the kids aren’t the only ones to blame, as many American adults also seem to have a huge lack of interest in learning about other countries, how those countries live, and the languages they speak — which certainly isn’t the case when it comes to other countries knowing about American ways and people.”
I cannot imagine that the education system has gone that far downhill. I’m in my late 50’s and perhaps fortunate in having gone to Catholic schools (though there’s no way I would have agreed at the time). In university, many of my friends had gone to public schools and they certainly seemed to be very well educated. So what has happened? Why are the schools so bad? What other reasons could there be for such a lack of knowledge and incentive?