Monday, February 27, 2006

In which I wax patriotic (believe it or not!)

Brooke at Desperate Serbwife writes an interesting post about the immoralities she sees in US policies abroad. As she puts it,
The rest of the world is paying attention, and the rest of the world is not happy with what they see.
Of course, there's truth in that, but I think it's partially because the rest of the world only sees a limited slice of what's there. America cannot be summed up by the most inconsistent and irresponsible aspects of its foreign policy. Of course, when you're from (or living in) another country, that's what you see; foreign policy is the face that America presents to the world, and I completely agree that lately, it's been an ugly face. I am continually frustrated and dismayed by stories of my country acting as if its neighbors around the world (as well as its own citizens) were imperial subjects to be treated with arbitrary cruelty and no respect for civil liberties or the rule of law. (In this respect, I would argue that the current Bush Administration's actions are categorically different from anything Clinton, Bush 41, Reagan et al. ever did, but that's another issue.) For me, the real question is why people around the world continue to idealize America, despite constant reminders * of our transgressions, past and present. If the US is so horrible, why does everyone want to move there? I would answer that there is another side to the coin: in some sense, as I have written, the US continues to be a land of opportunity. To see the difference (in a positive sense) between the US and the rest of the world, the best place to look is our system of education. As Adam Hochschild wrote (in a very insightful piece worth reading in its entirety),
...if the arrogance of American military and economic power reflects the worst about us, our schools and colleges, at their best, reflect something more hopeful.
It's something I have experienced firsthand here in Serbia: the university students I teach are simply not encouraged to think for themselves. Throughout their secondary and postsecondary education, they are rewarded for listening silently to their professors, consulting other canonical experts, and repeating these "official" views (verbatim if possible) at exam time. It's not important for students of English to understand the character of Hamlet and really think about why he acts the way he does; what's essential is to know the year when Hamlet was written. The US, on the other hand, presents a society that values independence, that requires students to advocate for their own opinions (while grounding them in fact and acknowledging the opinions of experts), that recognizes that any student could be the next Harold Bloom - or the next Shakespeare. Hochschild calls it "the most vibrant civil society on Earth." It's up to us as Americans (especially those of us who live abroad) to embody this human-centered worldview, hoping to counteract the power-centered dynamic that many people around the world have come to view as characteristically American. * For those of you who have never been to Belgrade: These are photos of buildings damaged by the NATO bombing in 1999. Go back


Brooke said...

You are quite right about the hopeful side of America. Thanks for the shout-out and for pointing the positive side - and I loved the Adam Hochschild piece!

Marija said...

I have to say that you have slightly wrong picture of our education. Mostly, you are right, but I have to say that it is up to professor/teacher to appreciate his own words or students/pupils opinion! As smarter professor is as more he appreciate students own opinions. But unfortunately, most intelligent and educated people from our country works abroad (or for foreign organizations here), so the only good professors we have are old or without knowledge of some foreign language, and with years it gets worse! Can you imagine young, intelligent, educated, want to learn more professor in the environment of uneventful, lazy, finished their education by "repeating these "official" views (verbatim if possible) at exam time", just give me salary professors, how fast his attitude will go down, and if he wants to stay how fast he will adapt, at least for a while until he grabs opportunity to leave! Hmmm.
All of this is more applicable to universities than to primary and secondary education. I am actually very proud for my primary and secondary education, and I consider myself lucky for having such teachers who "encouraged pupils to think for themselves", and reworded us for our own opinions and ideas. Of course, I had few teachers of the `opposite sides`, but luckily for subjects not too important for me. I even had history teacher who gave best marks only to pupils who discussed in every class not necessarily with any previous history knowledge, and who had opinion about everything, whether it was wrong or right!
P.S. I have to learn to make shorter sentences!! Wahhhahahaha

Kaarin said...

I'm sorry this is all I can muster for a comment (I'm in the middle of midterms!), but I just want to say that I've had similar thoughts in my time living abroad. It's a good stretch for one's paradigms to view your country from a distance.