Happily for all of us in the “Good Old US of A”, our friends in other parts of the world tend to be patient with us. Either that or they are happy to allow us to sleep soundly as the rest of the world moves quietly past us- perhaps like the Aesop’s Fable of the Hare and the Tortoise. We will return to Aesop shortly. Let’s push onward…
When you hear the recent group of Republican candidates pander to the denizens of the far right of the political spectrum, there is a lot of flag-waving and Bible thumping and gun-toting going on that we didn’t see even 10 years ago. Remember, for example, when all of the baseball stadiums in the mid- seventies had foot signs as usual with the metric equivalent underneath. You remember the metric system don’t you?- its adoption was at least being given something less than “short-shrift” by our politicians at that time. This logical process of measuring by tens should be a “no-brainer” as they say. It loses, not because of its logic, but because “it’s a foreign thing.” What are the chances of America adopting something “foreign” today?
As an Italian acquaintance pointed out to me… You folks in the United States always depict Italians as gangsters. Your history book goes back perhaps 300 years. Have you heard of the Roman Empire whose roads and government, for example, facilitated the spread of Christianity, brought water hundreds of miles, accurately measured time and seasons, had architecture that today could not be duplicated, while providing a measure of 14th Amendment due process to important people like the Apostle Paul who could say, “I am a citizen of Rome” which guaranteed at least a trial when he was captured. Or perhaps you have heard of Leonardo DaVinci, Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, Guglielmo Marconi, to name a few. Our history goes back over 2000 years. You have been here for 5 minutes and you think you invented science, art, government, mathematics, medicine, etc.
American ethnocentrism is legendary. Sinclair Lewis wrote about it in the early 20th Century. His book “It Can’t Happen Here” should be read today- right now-Quick! People in the Tea Party want it to be 1955 again when those “foreigners knew their place dag nabbit!” Its time to change all of this if we really expect to be “competitive” (Presidents love this cryptic word) in the 21st Century. Parents should be demanding the International Baccalaureate as an option at the very least.
Interestingly, those same politicians of the present-day are strong supporters of former American Corporations that have become multi- national and know no national boundaries nor do they have any national affiliations. Globalization has made that a reality.
So when you hear the President saying that our schools must become more competitive – we must ask the questions, Competitive with who?, and About What? Must Exxon America be competitive with Exxon India? Its just plain Exxon anymore isn’t it? It’s not USA vs.
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India, or China. You might think that it is- and the media and the politicians frame it that way for those of you who still wish there was a Memorial day parade and a July 4th Parade. They show you the new incredibly large Chinese aircraft carrier as a distraction since hacking another country’s computerized power grid, air traffic control system, and banking system for example will be causing far greater chaos and can already be done- without a big aircraft carrier- and if it was we’d all be killing one another in the streets while the Chinese Army is asleep in their beds. Do you think the Chinese are unaware of this?
Where are we going? Simply stated, we in America think we invented Education. Our history books still act as though everything started in the Middle east *(just for Adam and Eve and some inconvenient religious stuff- like Jesus for example)- quickly went to Europe, then came here with Columbus. We don’t talk about the Arabs for example who invented Algebra and did surgical things that astonished the people in Europe- or the amazing things Marco Polo found at the court of Kublai Khan? The astonished Europeans were, of course, the ones who were actually permitted to learn to read without fear of being killed as heretics in the “Dark Ages.”
They say that Patton had a difficult time convincing his superiors about the concept of tanks in the next war because there was still horse cavalry in the US Army, circa 1938. The tanks are called “Cavalry” today. Progress takes time here.
Our public school system like the cavalry up till the second world war is still trying to catch up to Sputnik, and spending most of its time taking or preparing for the decontextualized- who wants to be a millionaire multiple choice tests. The current system of Standardized testing has only one objective, that of discouraging young people- while sorting and classifying them- so that eventually many will lower their aspirations intuitively, quit school, and take the jobs that people with green cards are now happy to take. I know some of you don’t believe that, so start by reading about something called the “Mudsill Theory”. Stated succinctly by a South Carolina Senator in 1858 or so, a society succeeds or fails based on the quantity of people it has who are willing to do the menial tasks for minimum wage and no benefits. If a country lacks those kind of people, some think, they must import them or create their own. Witness the turmoil in Europe in countries where the first choice to import was made.