Warning: teaching our kids about the world is "un-American"

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children_globeI normally keep my personal, non-entrepreneurial rants out of this blog.  But when I read the front-page story “Global studies bid dies” in the Arizona Republic, I could not keep my astonishment to myself when I read some quotes from our Arizona legislators.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mark Anderson from my hometown of Mesa, “would have put three K-12 schools in the northern, central and southern parts of the state, where kids would begin a second language in kindergarten, and set up new international programs at seven high schools.  Big business and universities pledged to partner with the schools.”

As someone who has benefited tremendously from international and cross-cultural studies (I lived abroad in high school in college, and speak Spanish, French, Portuguese and am learning Navajo), this sounded like a great idea.  I was appalled at my own education when I got to my first class at a Swiss high school as an exchange student and realized that my Swiss counterparts not only spoke at least 3 languages, but knew more about American geography and history than I did.

In the working world, I have found that knowledge of other languages and cultures has benefited every aspect of my business.  I was able to build trust, credibility and rapport with my non-USA peers very quickly when we were able to switch back and forth between languages.  Living in diverse metropolitan areas like San Francisco and Phoenix, I was able to understand and connect with first, second and third generation immigrants in a more profound way, since I had studied and lived in their parent’s and grandparent’s land of origin.

Apparently, my education is more dangerous than I thought.  Senator Karen Johnson, also from Mesa and chairwoman of the K-12 Education Committee, never let the proposal out of the committee.  Instead, she brought in Allen Quist, a professor from Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minnesota to “educate lawmakers on the dangers of a popular international studies program, the International Baccalaureate.”  Says Quist:

“The International Baccalaureate is un-American.”  “It teaches students to see the American system of government as one of many, not as the only one that protects universal and God-given rights to property, to bear arms and free speech.”

Mesa Representative Russell Pearce agrees, saying:

“Our schools ought to be focusing on education that we, as Americans, espouse.  We ought to concentrate on United States history and United States heroes.”

I wonder how Quist and Pearce would feel about a favorite tee-shirt of my Navajo in-laws (especially given their affinity for God-given rights to property):


Update:  For those that asked about where to find the tee shirt, here is where I found it online.

Am I the only one to think that limiting the next generation’s access to information about the rest of the world is beyond ludicrous in today’s global economy?

Filed Under: Rant

25 Responses to “Warning: teaching our kids about the world is "un-American"”

  1. […] while waiting on hold (I don’t think this conference call is happening today).  Just saw this from Pam Slim: The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mark Anderson from my hometown of Mesa, “would have put three […]

  2. Maxine says:

    What I don’t understand is: why can’t students learn both US history AND world history (and geography etc etc)?

    I didn’t realise we were talking about an either/or situation which is what some people seem to be implying. It doesn’t even have to be 50/50, couldn’t 70/30 or 80/20 work as well?

    Otherwise, it’s not education, it’s propaganda. And you don’t instill civic pride by having a fear-based, dogmatic education

    All you’ll have is a population split between irrational bigots and those so disillusioned that they feel the diametric opposite of civic pride.

    Way to go…

  3. Coming to this discussion late, but it just makes me want to curl up and whimper. And then Americans can’t understand why so many people want to kill us… well, we could start by trying to understand anything at all about them!

    I am SO glad I had a very international education (and my bi-national, bilingual, multicultural daughter is about to leave her home in Italy to go to high school for a year in India!).

  4. Pamela Slim says:

    Wow, thanks for all your comments and insight on this topic everyone! I really like the different perspectives, and agree that it is counterproductive to label one side “right” and the other “wrong.” Obviously, there are intricacies to each side of the equation which greatly affect the outcome, including:

    -What version of US history is being taught? The one I remember was wrought with “manifest destiny” and kind of skimmed over some pretty important historical events like slavery, mass genocide of native people, etc. But I realize that that was over 30 years ago, and I haven’t looked closely at the curriculum lately.

    -I imagine some int’l education perspectives might look harshly at the role of the US in the world based on foreign policy decisions, and overlook some positive aspects of the culture and government.

    So exactly what is discussed and how it is discussed is obviously very important.

    My view from being in AZ for awhile and knowing a little about these particular legislators is that their view is that there is only “one good government system” and only “one God” (who happens to be Christian). I just simply disagree with this, and think we can teach pride, love and respect for our country by honoring the diversity that is here, and the imperfect history that we have.

    How you can learn about US history without learning about the world anyway is kind of beyond me, given that we are a nation of immigrants, and we have chosen to take an extremely active military and economic role in the rest of the world.

    I appreciate that I can rant about things occasionally … thanks for joining the discussion.

  5. Tim King says:

    I haven’t read all the comments here, Pam. Briefly, you’re not the only one. Winston Smith did, too, in his own way.

    Sadly, none of what you say shocks me, or even really surprises me. And before you call me a cynic, remember, a cynic is what an idealist calls a realist.


  6. Natalie says:

    Oh my word.

    There are few words I could say to express my utter shock and horror at the American school system. Being a person who graduated from an International program in Canada, I am appalled to think that Americans would blatantly ignore the rest of the world.

    Interesting article and great blog. I really enjoyed reading your opinions.

  7. fatin says:

    I just read this post. Once the smoke coming out of my ears subsided, I realized that I’m not surprised, but it is still so disheartening. How very, very un-American.

    What is heartening, however, are some of the comments you’ve recieved in response. Proof that many of us realize that there is a whole world out there that we are merely a part of, but one that we can be a great part of~

  8. Kevin says:

    I attended high school in AZ and also found my education wanting, especially when it came to being challenged. I currently homeschool my children and have the flexibility to educate my children for the information age. Unfortunately, public schools are stuck in their industrial age thinking and are doing a disservice to the children they are teaching.

    Public education has not being preparing America’s children for the future, or the present, for the last thirty years and there seems to be no sign of that changing. If any state could benefit from having a bi-lingual education, AZ is that state considering the demographic changes that have been caused by immigration across the border.

  9. Audall says:

    Many thoughts run through my mind when I read this story as well as all the comments. To be honest, I do think we should start our children’s education with U.S. history, culture, CIVIC DUTY, and other subjects pertaining to our country. As children, we can learn about other places after. But, I think these politicians’ comments were very poorly phrased and misguided.

    In general, it’s not an easy question. The ignorant-protectionist perspective bugs me because this perspective hurts the U.S.’ competitiveness in the long run. If we don’t remain open to competition and allow ourselves to evolve into a more globally integrated world economy, than we will decline in comparison to others that do. We have to take on all comers, and part of that, is learning about other people and places so we can act effectively and continue to thrive.

    But, the America-basher perspective bothers me just as much. People who joke about how many languages U.S. citizens speak–go ask the average guy in Guangdong, China how many languages he speaks. Or, the guy on the street in Indonesia. The answer is ONE. I know, cause I’ve lived in both places. Europeans speak a lot of languages because their countries are small and very close together–like U.S states. If Nevada spoke another language, I’d be more inclined to learn it. Europe is not in the same situation, thus not a standard to be followed. Others learn English because it helps a great deal in business–because they want to make money. Not because they want to be “multicultural” for the sake of being a good world citizen.

    After college, I traveled, studied, lived, and worked in several other countries. I found out that most people in other countries are basically, just like people from the U.S. There are a-holes, great people, and everything in between. I learned their languages, their history and culture, religion, etc. I got an MA in Asian Studies.

    I didn’t need to start learning Spanish in 2nd grade in order to learn all of that. I did it on my own because I was curious. And so can almost anyone else in the U.S. who is interested in doing so. I think there are other venues that our kids can learn about other countries. I think our news channels could do a much better job. Parents can do it themselves. But, you only have so much time in a grade school classroom, so many pages in a textbook, so much bandwith in a child’s head. Do we teach less about US history in order to teach more about other countries’ histories? Personally, I’d like my kid to start with who he is, what country he comes from, etc. There are many things about American values, culture, and our political system, that put us in a position that entices others to want to learn to speak English to do business with us and move here to live. That says something. So I would like my child to be rooted in this, and then, he or she can learn about others.

  10. Tyler Craig says:

    As an undergraduate student majoring in education and business, I agree that American students need to bridge the international gap that isolated “Americanism” has caused. I too have had the opportunity to travel outside of the US to Uruguay and Southeast Asia, and I must say, as an American I had to hang my head in shame. Most the students in these countries knew more about US history and World history than any American student. Our education system and government dropped the ball. It upsets me to see that politicians seem to be missing what so many of us business and education professionals already know– American isn’t the only country on the planet. This issue is close to my heart, and it is one my personal goals to battle the mindset that American students need to focus only on American culture and language. The world is interconnected, and as the “world superpower” and the “great melting pot” we should be leading the way in multicultural education. If third world countries can educate their children to know their own history and US history, couldn’t we do the same? I sure hope so.

  11. anonymous says:

    For people who are concerned that US students aren’t learning enough about the US, I would suggest that we can learn about much more about our own country by learning about others. I’m not an expert on education, but I can tell you that, from my experience, it is much easier to understand and remember information when it is put in *context* and can be *compared and contrasted* with information about other things. Strange as it may seem, I find it a lot easier to point out the US on a map, when I can actually locate the countries around it. Just like it’s easier to remember the name of the French and Indian War (aka the Seven Years War) when we know that FRANCE was involved. Crazy, I know.

  12. weeklymg says:

    The phrase “drank the kool-aid” comes to mind…

  13. Dixon says:

    Where can I get a copy of that T-shirt?

    I disagree that Europeans know more about American history than Americans do. I would say that Europeans know more about European-American history than Americans do (i.e. those events that happend after 1492).

    But, how many Europeans know who Deganaweeda was? (He founded the first representative democracy in the northern hemisphere in ~1000AD). How many Europeans could tell you who Thupa Inca was? (He consolodated more land than Alexander the Great or Ginges Kahn and he did this without waging war).

  14. Wow — this is incredible. The world is becoming flatter and leaders become denser? Swell…

    Whenever someone wants to put the stops to broadening education and experiences it has to be rooted in fear. I mean, goodness what would it mean if American kids knew more about the world and could connect with more people, cultures, languages, and ideas? It would mean they would be less likely to bow to propaganda, carrot/stick tactics, and other strongarm stuff that “powerful” institutions like goverment and corporations try to throw at us. If their world view expands it opens their minds to new possibilities, and we all know how dangerous that can be 😉

    It scares the people in charge — What if the kids know more than we do? Where would our identity and worth be? What if they don’t listen to me or I can’t control the situation anymore, what then?

    My gut tells me that is what is REALLY behind the desire to restrict opportunities like this.

    I agree with Roman’s point that we also need to ensure that kids learn the depth and breadth of US history and culture in the process. That means less watered down history written by people who only wanted kids to learn one side of the story (my experience with history as a kid).

  15. Ric says:

    As an outsider, I can tell you that the popular perception of Americans elsewhere in the world is one of isolationism and “CGAF-about-anyone-else”. While I don’t subscribe to that generalisation in individual cases, it seems to have been well-earned. My personal experience (I’m currently working with a Texan FYI, and my daughter’s happy experiences with the USA a couple of years ago) is more benign than that, but … this sort of thinking doesn’t help.

  16. Tim Berry says:

    Pam I couldn’t agree with you more. Education is never unAmerican. Ignorance is unAmerican, though, and you cite quotes from some legislators advocating ignorance.

    Jeez! What are they afraid of? Is America so bad that simple knowledge of elsewhere is bad for people. Wow, makes us sound like the behind-the-iron-curtain countries in the 1950s.

    Some of the quotes you cite, and some responses to your post are frightening. Nothing in your post should be controversial.

    I’m a business blogger too, but I agree with your instinct, it’s a good post. An issue like this should be aired. I thought that as I read your lead, and I became more convinced as I read your quotes and then the comments.

    While we’re talking about backgrounds, as if an immigrant background somehow validates an opinion, my wife of 37 years is Mexican, immigrated here after we married. We have five children, and we worked hard to keep them proud of an informed about their Mexican half.

    The curriculum for the international Baccalaureate is excellent. A kid that has the option of that in high school is privileged.

    I know, everybody is entitled to his or her opinion, but people who advocate ignorance should not be in public office.

    Tim Berry

  17. Michelle says:

    Oh man. I was reading along, becoming appropriately outraged, when I reached the quote. My eyes nearly popped out of my head. It seems apparent that this ignorant opposition is most certainly born of fear. Fear that a generation of young people might grow up and question the corporate-run system that we have now, perhaps. Although, I am definitely curious as to exactly which companies are partnering with the schools.

    I have been unhappy for many years because my children have not been given an opportunity to learn a second language at school. As an educator, I teach ESL to immigrant children, who then grow up to have the bilingual/multilingual advantage over my own kids. Ack. We are being very shortsighted here. It seems that even the most xenophobic could see that we need to remain competitive.

  18. Helen says:

    My children attend International Baccalaurate schools. They benefit from the schooling in critical thinking and empathy. Your children are missing out on important aspects of their education if they are not in such schools. Pam – do you plan on making sure your legislators know your thoughts? Can you share with committee members outcomes from other schools? Silence means you are supporting the ignorance.

  19. Ryan says:

    “Am I the only one to think that limiting the next generation’s access to information about the rest of the world is beyond ludicrous in today’s global economy?”

    No, you are definitely not. The education system in our country is a total joke right now (some great “haves”, sure, but way too many “have nots”), and this story just illustrates one of the many reasons why.

    “The International Baccalaureate is un-American.”

    What exactly does this mean? My new rule is this: people that use the term “un-American” are “un-American”.

    “It teaches students to see the American system of government as one of many, not as the only one that protects universal and God-given rights to property, to bear arms and free speech.”

    C’mon, like our schools actually teach and encourage free speech! Just look at the “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” kid’s case if you believe that!

    “Mesa Representative Russell Pearce agrees, saying: ‘Our schools ought to be focusing on education that we, as Americans, espouse. We ought to concentrate on United States history and United States heroes.’ ”

    Well, math and science might be a good addition to the curriculum as well, don’t you think?

  20. Hi Pam:

    As the parent of a sixth grader who attends a charter school based on the principles of the IBO, unfortunately we face this kind of idiocy all the time. When we first proposed the school, I was told by one critic ( whose last name coincidentally ends with the same three letters mine does 😉 that if I didn’t like American education as it is I should “go back to Russia.”

    Now that the school has been in place for five years, and its students from all different backgrounds score at the highest percentile of any children in the state on the different standardized tests, we are being told by critics that the school is “unfair” to other students throughout the rest of the public school system and should be shut down.

    Exactly how and why the existence of a school where students excel is unfair to others is beyond me, but I have no doubt that the reasons are being cooked up somewhere now even as we speak.

    Dave Rakowski
    Allentown, PA

  21. What’s sad is how unsurprising it is. A shocking number of our citizens don’t even understand how our government works, never mind what goes on in the rest of the world.

    I spent a fair amount of time in France last year and one of the most striking things about it was that people were, in general, highly aware of what was going in their country and elsewhere in the world, when compared to the people at home.

    The US has always had some isolationist tendencies – not surprising given how large we are, we have the luxury of keeping to ourselves – but it’s rather depressing to see legislators encouraging it.

    We will pay a price for it down the road.

  22. dj says:

    “The International Baccalaureate is un-American.”

    That’s true. So true! I like Americans, but I find that the most people from US are either ignorant or just don’t care for the rest of the world. If it’s not in the States, who give the sh*t!

    And for the end a bit of humor:

    What do you call a person who can speak three languages?
    What do you call a person who can speak two languages?
    What do you call a person who can only speak one language?

  23. gayle says:

    Sorry, Roman. I can’t agree with your view of US schools. I can do all the things you mention plus more, and my son is learning the same (in a different town). There are good school systems and bad ones, I can’t speak to yours.

    There are many reasons a person’s school experience can be incomplete. Lack of parental involvement, poor funding, tenured teachers who are burnt out, to name a few.

    In my experience, too many in the US thing that everything “American” is Good-And-Not-To-Be-Questioned, while everything outside is Bad (unless you happen to enjoy vacationing there).

  24. Gayle says:

    Wow. That is the most twisted thing I have heard in a long time. I thought NJ politicians were bad, but my son has been learning Spanish since Kindergarden. I guess we’re progressive after all.

    First of all, I want clarification that the American government is the “only one that protects universal and God-given rights to property, to bear arms and free speech.” Do Britiains and Canadians and other “First World” countries not have similar rights?

    Have these people done extensive studies on foreign governments? They exist for a reason. Every system has pros and cons. Do they Understand – not Comprehend, but Understand first hand – the intricacies of every government on the planet?

    And, – to play Devil’s advocate – if those other nations are so wrong, why not learn about them and strenghten our confidence in the American form of government?

    OMG, I could go on and on. This has hit a button. The ignorance of humankind, and the sheer arrogance of my fellow Americans, never ceases to amaze me. I am ashamed.

    PS… that t-shirt nails it.

  25. No you are not wrong. Kind of.

    I am the son of immigrants, bi-lingual and bi-cultural. I understand the value of speaking multiple languages and exposure to many cultures and yet I can’t get as bent out of shape as you are.

    The problem is that the Swiss students you spoke of knew their history, culture and geography first.

    In the US the “global” view of a “global” world and economy is usually that what we have is bad and therefore ignored.

    I don’t have a problem with anything the bill wanted, but let’s make sure that our students can first point to the US on a map and know what the 4th of July really stands for.

    Let them be able to explain what the civil war was about in more than one word (slavery). And let’s make sure they can place JFK, Nixon, Carter and Reagan in the right decades. Better yet, let’s just get the century right.

    I am against the bill because it allows our teachers to ignore US history, politics, civics, culture and geography in the name of muti-cultural education and a “global view”.