How American schools failed, or, we need to get out more

Ben Wolford

BATH, United Kingdom — Bill Bryson, the travel writer, calls this the best view in England.

If you stand below street level in the northwest corner of the Great Bath, you can look up past 19th-century sculptures of Roman leaders and see the bell tower of the gothic Bath Abbey, obscured by the mist rising from the naturally hot water.

I hate to overwrite, but I want my words to do this scene some kind of justice. The picture I took from here captures in its frame the arts and ideas of 2,000 years of people. I’d be surprised if there’s something like it anywhere else in the world.

But a friend told me she doesn’t want to leave the United States. There’s enough to see there.

She’s right; there’s enough to see. You could spend a lifetime sampling the regional fare around the states and seeing all the impressive buildings and geography of the U.S.

But the culture north-of-the-border, the real tradition of the people, their worldview, could only capture your fascination for a month or two. From New York to California, we’re basically the same. On the whole, there’s nothing challenging.

We think liberal democracy is the best type of government, we think high fructose corn syrup tastes better than actual sugar and we are awfully forgetful or ignorant when it comes to things such as: what we did to the Native Americans, the fact our government provoked the Pearl Harbor attack, and what our multi-national corporations do to the citizens of host countries.

Our borders and media homogenize us. Our schools fail us.

I’ll make my life a case study (keep in mind I never got a B in high school, and I’m on the dean’s list at Kent State):

Before I crossed the Atlantic, no one ever said anything like this to me: “Your multi-nationals are raping us.” It was a South African who said it. Then a Hungarian pair in my politics seminar used similar language. So I did some research. What are these things that people in Sub-Saharan Africa and the former Soviet Bloc both despise?

They are corporations — mostly American ones — that have the power to exploit weak governments and desperate people if they’re not regulated. They suck dry the natural resources of other countries and then leave. They establish monopolies and kill local businesses.

I’ll grant they’re not entirely evil, but we’re not taught about potential and existing humanitarian crises in school. We’re not taught about how the United States is the hegemon since it won the Cold War. I don’t think many of us realize the incredible influence and responsibility we have in the world.

I never realized. I still don’t think I’ve grasped the extent of our cultural, political and corporate reach.

And I have a theory. Remember world history class in high school? Think back to any class in high school, actually.

Your teacher had a textbook and moved through it chapter by chapter. At the end of the year, you stopped where you were. If you didn’t reach the section on the post-Cold War era, well, so much for that. Public education has helped us affix blinders to our American heads.

So it’s good to get out from time to time. It’s good to slip into a world bigger than ourselves, breathe the same steam coming off this bath that the Chinese tourist next to me is breathing and that a Roman citizen breathed 2,000 years ago.

Ben Wolford is a junior newspaper journalism major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].