Thursday, May 4, 2006

April fools' was a month ago . . .

. . . which is precisely why I was a bit surprised when I read on CNN.com yesterday that a recent survey shows that most American youth do not know where either Louisiana or Iraq are on a map. In fourth or fifth grade I had to memorize the map of every country in the world and know every world capital. I'm not kidding. And I did it, now allowing my team to dominate the recent Union Church of Istanbul "International Quiz Night".

Having lived in Turkey for night eight months now, I'm growing appalled at just how ignorant America is of the rest of the world--and also how much of an impact America has on the world. Students here begin learning English in middle school, and in order to begin their formal university studies, they must pass the hazırlık, a difficult English proficiency exam. And their awareness of world history, events, and politics seems to me much higher than that of most American students. And when I'm with my German friends, I'm even more blown away. Almost every German now speaks English well, if not other languages in addition to that. I constantly feel challenged and even ashamed that I know only a bit of German and Turkish, and my effort in studying them is scarcely what I'd consider stout.

With the relatively low taxation of American citizens and our near-isolation on the North American continent, foreign language education has been tossed by the wayside as budgets get trimmed. (Thank you so much, George W. Bush and NCLB.) Now I know that 90% of our students will never leave the continent, but with the increasing number of immigrants entering the U.S. and with growing globalization, we cannot expect everyone else to learn English and conform to us while we lazily sit back upon our laurels as some self-deemed great nation and savior of the world. (And does anyone even realize that the Gulf War was largely started because of the conflicts between people who misunderstand one another's worldviews, i.e., America is founded upon a Platonic law/guilt-based worldview, and Iraq upon a shame-based one?)

I really want to see a greater priority placed upon learning about other cultures and languages, as well as the fine arts, in our schools. I know it's going to take time, and there's no quick "band-aid" approach. Language learning needs to start young. But it's something worth fighting for, especially for those who wish to see America remain a strong and effective presence in the world. How can we boast in ourselves when we don't understand and evaluate all cultures, when we can't even communicate in order to learn? Our ways are far from perfect or well-thought-out. Industrialization can lead to dehumanization on dangerous assembly lines. Our concepts of dating lead to the highest divorce rate in the world. And people in other nations are left to shake their heads, cringe, or curse. They're not perfect, either, but we just need to get on the ball.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

"April fools' was a month ago . . ." which is why I was surprised that you have been still blogging here after you posted your forthcoming "hiatus" a mere 2 weeks ago. Not that I am complaining, I usually stop in here every week or so to see how youre doing and to pray for you.
God Bless,
John Wood

Drew said...

Haha, yeah, well I used to post stuff in spurts of like every other day for a week, resulting in a bunch of barely thought-through crap. Well, sort of.

I hope to make it back to URC soon! See you there.