I recently read a shocking article by Douglas McGray in Foreign Policy magazine entitled “Lost in America” (free registration required). Through multiple examples, it is a demonstrates why people throughout the world consider Americans clueless and suggests some corrective actions. It's pretty clear that we have a lot of issues that need to be addressed.
The article begins by noting that, “Americans represent something of a paradox: surrounded by foreign languages, cultures, and goods, they remain hopelessly uninformed, and misinformed, about the world beyond U.S. borders.”
America the Ignorant
We've all seen and read similar statistics, so they should not be a surprise, yet the following facts should be extremely embarrassing to any American.
- Although half of all college bound Americans say they hope to study abroad, only 1 percent actually follow through on those plans. And nearly half of those students travel to just four countries in Western Europe: Britain, France, Italy, and Spain. In 2004, Italy attracted more American students than all of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East combined.
- 85 percent of 18- to 24-year-old Americans surveyed by the National Geographic Society could not locate Iraq on a map.
- Sixty-nine percent failed to fine Britain, 29 percent could not find the Pacific Ocean, and nearly a third believed the U.S. population to be somewhere between 1 and 2 billion.
Earlier this year, President George W. Bush finally revived some of the ideas in Strength through Wisdom, with a new National Security Language Initiative. The modestly funded measure encourages foreign language study as early as kindergarten, and requests new money to train and certify foreign language teachers, particularly in so-called critical languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Hindi, and Russian. It also promises to subsidize foreign study for high school and college students, and bring native speakers from abroad to teach in U.S. classrooms. Yet, the president’s language initiative may promise $24 million to promote foreign-language instruction in K-12 schools, but that seems pretty paltry compared to the $206 million he requested to fund abstinence only sex education.
Some people may equate this post as me being an "America hater". In reality, living in Europe has simply allowed me to see the U.S though a fresh lens. It has confirmed that much of what I grew up accepting as fact was based on localized values, not universal truths.
*** Yes, I do realize that the United States "does not own the whole hemisphere" known as 'the America's' as so many Europeans love to point out. Point taken, please don't email me over it.