America is the world’s most powerful country in the world. Its involvement in foreign policies is not only constant but also of critical importance: America’s decision-making can make or break countries, build peace or send us on the path to a world war. Despite this unrivaled level of power, regular Americans do not seem to earn such global responsibility with their level of geographic, historical and cultural knowledge of other countries.
In a National Geographic poll, only one in three Americans could correctly find Great Britain on a map. Three quarters of people thought English was the most natively spoken language in the world, when it is actually third, after Mandarin and Spanish. Only one fourth could locate Israel or Iran on a map, and 70 per cent thought Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the 9/11 attacks.
Polls surely provide a narrow glimpse into a nation’s educational background. However, they still offer a fair perspective that helps to identify one of America’s weakest points: plain and simple, it sucks at knowing other countries. Yet, it exerts so much power over them, and this dynamic cannot be anything other than faulty if America plans on having an overall positive, peace-building impact in the world.
A country whose students and future leaders lack the most basic geographical and cultural knowledge of other countries will most likely also fail at assessing the best ways of working with them. I would not say that schools have been neglecting to teach such information to students. Rather, I would assume that most of them lead students down the memorization lane, and therefore fail to teach in ways that would help students retain the information.
This teaching style lacks the essential component of personal connection, context and relevance to the subject of study. This is where study abroad programs come in handy to enrich and render the learning experience more wholesome by providing students with academic and cultural experiences that complement each other. Students should be encouraged to pursue study abroad programs in less popular countries like Turkey, South Africa, and Egypt, which tend to be skipped during history classes in favor of Western European countries.
Whether through study abroad programs or other mediums of study, American students should truly strive to be better knowledgeable on other countries, as so many of them are regarding the US and other powerful nations. America has a unique position of power in that, without a proper educational foundation, can be not only wasted but also unfavorably utilized.