Lost in America: America's international education

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Fri May 19 12:56:47 UTC 2006

>>From the Chronicle of Higher Education,

Friday, May 19, 2006

A glance at the current issue of Foreign Policy: America's international

 American students represent something of a paradox, says Douglas McGray,
a contributing writer at the magazine. "Surrounded by foreign languages,
cultures, and goods," he writes, "they remain hopelessly uninformed, and
misinformed, about the world beyond U.S. borders."  Indeed, "for all the
anxiety that science and math education inspires, the global languages,
politics, history, and culture in U.S. schools may actually be scarier,"
he writes. Consider, Mr. McGray says, that 92 percent of undergraduates
never take a foreign-language class. Or that while half of all
college-bound students say they hope to study abroad, just 1 percent
actually do so. Of that group, he notes, nearly half travel to the same
four European countries:  Britain, France, Italy, and Spain. In 2004
alone, he adds, Italy attracted more American students than did Africa,
Asia, and the Middle East combined. Mr. McGray faults America's
isolationist approach to education, which he says can be traced to the
18th century. But, he says, more-recent events have also taken a toll. The
political-correctness movement of the 1990s, for example, turned campuses
into battlegrounds "as students and professors staked out new American
identities that put race, gender, or foreign heritage on equal footing
with American citizenship," he says.  "Ironically, though, these fights
over what it means to be American rarely considered American identity in a
wider world."

Yet inroads are being made, he says. For instance, in 2002 the College
Board introduced an Advanced Placement examination in world history, and
it will soon offer exams in non-European languages such as Chinese and
Japanese. President Bush has also promised $24-million toward a
foreign-language program to certify teachers in critical languages such as
Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Hindi, and Russian. Mr. McGray hopes such advances
are signs that international education is improving, he says, because "the
United States can no longer afford an isolationist education system, any
more than the world can afford an isolationist American public." The
article, "Lost in America," is available to subscribers or for purchase on
the magazine's Web site.


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