21 October 2009

"Shockingly Ignorant"

In the early 1980s I was in graduate school and the focus of my thesis in history was the "movement for international education during the years 1900-1925" in American high schools. The topic gripped my interest due to the fact that there had been a substantial "peace education" movement in the schools during the early years of the century just prior to and during the years of the most cataclysmic war in human history (WW 1). That contradiction was worth exploring.

My research was being done in the context of rather dramatic criticisms being leveled at our schools for not emphasizing the world enough in the curriculum. Ernest Boyer, for example, made the following stinging observation in his 1983 book, "High School: A Report on Secondary Education in America,":

"Today's high school curriculum barely reflects the global view. The world has shrunk, yet American young people remain shockingly ignorant about our own heritage and about the heritage of other nations."

Harsh words, but have things changed much since 1983? How are we doing with all this in 2009? If we believe in the power of education, then it follows that schools have a special responsibility in this regard. Note the following observation from Cyrus Vance who served as Secretary of State under Jimmy Carter:

"It is in our schools and in our universities that each generation first learns of its world. The complexities of this uncertain age thus impose special responsibilities on them to create a deeper comprehension of global issues that will make the years to follow more understandable to the body politic" ("The World in the Curriculum," 1981).

If we accept Vance's premise that schools have special responsibilities to "create a deeper comprehension of global issues," then we certainly have a lot of work to do. To those of you that are completing 21st Century World in November of 2009, or any others that may care to weigh in, I pose the following questions for your reflection and response:

1. Do you believe that we are doing enough in educating students about the wider "world" in our curriculum, or are we perpetuating "shocking ignorance" of the globe? Explain.
2. Can you select 2 or 3 things that you have learned about over the past 8 weeks that you believe fall in the category of "need to know" for ALL students? Explain.
3. Do you have suggestions for improving our approach concerning global education in our schools?

Have at it people. I hope to hear from many of you and you will receive some additional credit on your grade for your efforts.


Sierra Fox said...

1. I don't think that our school system is teaching enough about the world outside of the United States. Generally, only the American view on topics is covered even when that view may be painfully skewed. This lack of teaching early on to study happenings outside of the U.S. leads to lack of interest later in life, which leads to the problem of the generally uniformed public. 2. A few things we've studied in class that I think all students need to know are the origins and happenings of the cold war, and the origins and current happenings of the situation in the Middle East. These two international topics have had so many resulting events intertwined with domestic events that it is necessary to study the whole picture. 3. Change often comes difficultly for most people, so improving the global education portion of our school system, while necessary, will be difficult. An interest in studying the world has to start somewhere, and I think the younger the age the better. International pen pals in elementary school, news watching in middle and high school, and student travel programs would help to increase global education in the U.S.

Byron Finck said...

In our school system we are seeming to push harder for a wider based curriculum on world conflicts and foreign policy. With classes like 21st century world were are beginning to know just the basics of the world and everything behind what is happening. We need more classes that go into a much more depth and higher level of consentration on foreign policy and what is happening in the world. A class that lasted a whole semester would be a class to look for. 21st Century World is the kinda of class that should be a semester long because than we are getting a lot more time to learn the materal and giving us more time to comprehend it. There are a lot of subject matters that student "SHOULD" know, but need to know is a whole different things. Three things that are "need to know" would be foreign policy in America today, reason for being in Iraq and Afghanistan, and everything that is happening in the Obama administration. Like I said if we were able to extend that class to a semester class or maybe even a requirement then we would all have a better understanding and with it being a semester long being able to learn and comprehend more of everything.

Jordan Tranberg said...

I don't think that there is enough being done to teach about the world outside of the United States, but it is not entirely the schools fault I feel. It is evident that kids today really do not know enough about the outside world but it was not taught to us when we were in younger grades and this has lead us to believe that the outside world has no affect of us. Even though this isn't true it is how we feel and that is traced back to elementary and middle school. We are not aware of how much other things going on in the world affect what is going on in present day United States. With this ignorance to other countries and their new and how it affects us we are being set up for failure in our future years. So, with all this in our knowledge today we can change the way we teach young kids about international news. We could do this by have them do nation reports younger and have them realize that the United States is not the only nation out there. We could also have more news broadcast about global news and then have a reflection about it and how it will affect the world.

Dalton L. Ebert said...

Our school is kind of in the middle of what I would call "well informed" and "ill informed". We do have more of an opening for opportunity with classes like 21st Century Word, and it is a class that a lot more kids should take if they ever want to understand more than your ABC's or 123's. In a way, we are still very ignorant to the bigger world, half the kids in high school probably can't tell you the real reasons we are in Afghanistan and Pakistan, yet the option is there to learn about it so you have to wonder if they are being selective in what they hear about and learn about. Every kid should have a good understanding of why we are in the middle east and why there are so many disputes going on over what we are doing in those countries. Students should also know what foreign policy is and why it plays such a huge role in what we do in other countries. I think we are doing an alright job but we could definately have more news available, and suggest websites with news on them to get students' brains stirred up and interrested in the world outside of Black River Falls, or for that matter, outside of Wisconsin and the United States.

Forrest ↔ Whiterabbit said...

1→ No, I don't think our school district and schools in general are doing all they possibly can to advocate global awareness. In school it seems that only the surface is scratched and students come out of school and face the world with a blurred vision and a vague understanding of the World. Although I don't think this is giving everyone enough credit. I think everyone knows the basics and functions of the world, their not as ignorant as its made to seem, people are able to make educated decisions. But I think a lot of how students and people learn and act how you've raised, because most likely you'd take the same positions as you're family. Though I will say this for schools, After taking 21st century World I understand a lot more about the US, Foreign policy and the back story behind the world, than I did before, so in that sense I think

2→ 1 - We should all know what's happening at home, this is most important everyone should at the very least know how our government operates Our current leaders, future aspirations and the crisis's and triumphs our country is facing. 2 - The Middle East, It seems that everywhere you turn and everyone you ask seems to have a different view and knowledge of the real story of the Middle East I think its important to get everyone on the same page so that, we know what's really happening and what all those terms the media uses really mean, so that everyone can make educated decisions and opinons.

3→ Everyone has their own view of the world and by just having that are open to learning and understanding the world. I think that Students should be encouraged and taught early in their school career to get involved in being engaged in the world's workings, and I think its important to make sure the understand the correct information. Simple things can be done like an occasional news story or interacting with other people like foreign exchange students, taking specific classes or even opportunities to travel.

Levi Miles said...

1. Obviously American schools are not doing enough to educate the youth of America on world issues. A prime example of this would be that out school has ONE class that covers world events, news, and recent history and that only 20-30 students participate in it a year. This is not our schools fault, nor any fault of the teacher, but rather the fault of society as a whole. We have been raised to be ignorant. To be ignorant is almost to be American. Many high schoolers lack basic understanding our of government system and can’t even identify countries on a globe. How can we begin to understand the world at large if we don’t understand our own country? The solution to this (in my opinion) is to require domestic affairs education earlier (possibly making civics and politics classes required as early as freshmen year), and then REQUIRING a world affairs class later in our schooling. You have to start at the root of the problem, and the root is out terrible ignorance of our own county’s workings.

2. Two things that I have learned over the past eight weeks that all students should know and understand are the far reaching effects of the Cold War (who knew how much it has effected our country?) and how the current administration differs from previous administration on important foreign policy issues (Obama’s relaxing of relations with Cuba, relations in the Middle East and with China). These are the basis for understand the world around us. Without them you cannot understand the world today.

3. As stated above, I believe that we must push for education on America sooner, so we can also require education on the world stage before graduation.

Moriah Deno said...

1.) I think it depends on where the school is and who is teaching it. In the big view of America, no, people are not being taught as much about the world as others, and if they are being taught, it's most likely very little about what's going on in the world. I believe that when you are living in an area that has many different cultures, like a big city, the school will more likely be teaching more about the places that the children are from. But when you go to a school where the population is all white, or all African American or all Native American, I think the teachers are going to be more likely to teach things based on their own culture, not things going around in the world. But because America has the sense that we are better than everyone else, that plays in the role that we don't want to learn or teach about anything but ourselves.

2.) I think the biggest thing that people need to know is what is going on within our country. America is at 'war' with Iraq and Afghanistan. That's something that is in the news everyday and everyone should know about it. We covered the Afghan war heavily in this class and it's something where now, if someone doesn't even know what it is, I'd be saying they're completely ignorant. The second thing would be what and how the Cold War has affected the U.S. Knowing about the Cold War and how the relationship with the U.S., the Soviet Union and Cuba played out. I think that people may see the Cold War as boring and it didn't necessarily do anything to America so why study it, but really taking the time this term, showed that many of the things we do now, were because of the Cold War.

3.) While it does need to be done, changing our school system is not going to happen very quickly. Sure, schools by themselves can change some of their courses and offer more on global history and not just stick to what we have been taught since we were young. And with being young, teaching about the world outside the U.S. needs to start in elementary I think. The longer you wait to start becoming informed on what happens, the more ignorant and less informed the upcoming generations are going to be.

Adam Nichols said...

I don’t think that there is enough education in our schools about the world. We have classes that we can take like 21st century world, but that’s just one class, and it’s not even required. I have learned literally how “stupid” I was to the outside world this past term and I still only know a small fraction of everything that is going on. I think that our schools should have more classes offered or at least require or promote classes like 21st century to help kids understand foreign policy in the world. If American Politics can be made required, why not 21st century?
Over the past 8 weeks, I have learned about how the Pakistan-Afghan border is a critical point because of al-Queada being forced out of Afghanistan but now or just on the Pakistan-Afghan border. We have been trying to force democracy, but maybe democracy just won’t work.
I also learned that I cannot really find a reason that we are still in Iraq. We went in there to seek weapons of mass destruction and we didn’t find any, but still we are there and we have way more troops there than we do Afghanistan which we need to be more focused on. President Obama’s decision on what we will be doing with Afghanistan will be critical here in the future and will affect history.
In order to have people more educated on global issues we need to promote it more. Somehow we have to get kids interested. How we go about that, I’m not so sure. But it is staggering the amount of people who can’t even tell the basics of why America is even at war right now. I believe that just as American Politics is made required in our school, a class such as 21st century should be made required also. Just by being in the classroom everyday kids are going to learn, whether they like it or not.