Monday, January 15, 2007

Dreaming on MLK/Dream Day:

I have my own MLK dream today: I dream that sometime in the future, the country will make it possible for every high school student to spend at least six months in a country outside the United States, preferably on another continent. Robert Kaiser wrote yesterday in the WaPo that Americans get into trouble--read, Iraq and Vietnam--because they are ethnocentric, somewhat unreflective and strong in the belief that everyone sees things and wants to live like they do. I think that's largely true--I always remember Frank Burns in one of those classic episodes of MASH telling Hawkeye Pierce that we were in Korea to make sure all citizens of the north and south had American plumbing and toilets. It is also perfectly understandable, since Americans live on an island with relatively friendly neighbors. It takes work to get out and mingle with Europeans, Asians and Africans.

If you live abroad for any length of time, you learn that not everyone views the United States as a beacon of liberty, hope and human rights. Whether they have been conditioned by their governments to focus on the negative aspects of US history or they are close readers of the news, a lot of people abroad see us as an opportunistic, self-serving, often hypocritical great power. That's both true and untrue, but that is the way they see things. Secondly, you get a sense that people are the products of their historical experience. Russians, for example, are mistrustful of foreigners in part because foreigners--read, French, Germans, Poles, Swedes and a host of other invaders--have brought them a lot of grief and death. The French and most continental Europeans will do virtually anything to avoid war, not because they are cowards but because of the two wars that devastated their countries not so long ago. Third, you learn to live with ambiguity--you can be friends and have a dialogue with someone else even if you don't share his or her world view. It seems to me that's the beginning of perspective and wisdom.

I would not trade my time abroad for any amount of money. I dream that someday, our people will have the tools to break out of their isolation and exceptionalism, so that they can avoid delusions like those that landed us in Vietnam and Iraq. In the meantime, YOU should "cultivate your own garden," that is, investigate opportunities to travel and engage "furriners." It will change and enrich your life, as well as those of the people lucky enough to meet you.

8 comments:

jodmeister said...

Gee, I never read the WaPost,he he he. Check out this article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/14/AR2007011401026.html. Many knew Dr. King stood for racial equality and justice but many college students still believe his secondary message was to abolish slavery. Further down in the article speaks about how history is getting squeezed out of the curriculum (with many other things IMO) because No Child Left Behind is focusing on English and math. I would have loved to been a foreign exchange student but I guess not enough to really push my boundries. I believe we should be a multi-lingual country but in order to achieve that, language education would need to start in elementary school rather than high school. Don't quote me on this but I think I read somewhere that its easier to learn a second language very young. I don't remember the reason why, perhaps because we all lose our memory as we age??

moville said...

Agreed on all this...we're really not focused on anything but what's going to be on the test. i'm all for accountability, but not at the expense of enriching experiences like travel, visiting museums, taking time to do interesting, non-tested things. on the foreign language question, it's easier when you're younger because you just let it rip, without worrying about mistakes or sounding like an idiot. when you're about l2, you start being bugged by things like that, and it's harder.

LaPopessa said...

I would make a few months abroad mandatory for every American school child. We grow up in these little self-imposed bubbles, learning about the world through self-selection, what we choose to watch on the news, what we choose to surf on the net. Few take the time to really learn about another country, let alone learn another language (the whole "if they want to talk to us, they should learn to speak English" concept is not only closed minded, it robs us of the gift of learning something new and, dare I say it, interesting.).

The world is bigger than the trip between the house, McDonald's and the school/job. And the more who actually get that, the fewer around who will vote in idiots who don't.

jodmeister said...

Here is an article about an eight-year-old boy who led a MLK march in Seattle. http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/299847_king16.html

Who knows, this may be the next MLK.

mishdiaz said...

I have to say I agree on the foreign travel thing. I know we learned tons going to Mexico. We did NOT travel to the tourist destinations, but instead into the heart of the country, Atotonilco, and Guadalajara, and all over thereabouts, and learned a great deal about how priviledged we are to be in this country. And the language was not really a barrier since I have taken every Spanish class they have at CBC and picked up on it quite quickly. I was able to journey on my own quite a bit, and even took myself to the doctor when I got sick, and he spoke no English! (Only charged 200 pesos btw, which is only $2.00... had to give him more, I felt guilty) I think these kinds of experiences force you to speak the language. When you have an interpreter available, of course you will lean on them to get an idea across more perfectly instead of going all in. Anyway, I did love it, and plan to go back next winter and see more historical sites, rather than focusing on the cultural as we did 2 years ago. By the way, the kids picked up on the language very quickly and my four year old was playing with the kids in the streets like she was one of them. In fact, she was rather famous because of her blond hair and people would come up to us in the plazas and on the streets to give her trinkets in the village. She was speaking a Spanglish when we left Mexico, even though we had only been there for three weeks. Can't wait to go back, and looking forward to a trip to Europe to see the WWI battle sites around Paris, and here stateside we are planning a trip next summer to DC and New York...I know it is weird, but I have been all over the western states from Colorado and Oklahoma west, but no further east, and I feel I have almost missed out on another culture within our own country. Make sense?

mishdiaz said...

Absolutely! But we did face some discrimination even in Mexico. I knew when we went down there that there were some that felt that way, but was surprised when some were negative towards my daughter. I combated the situation by putting her in all of the playclothes that we had brought, and did not break out the nice things that we usually wear for family functions. Also, after a few meetings, when we went to different neighborhood functions I picked up garbage and helped in the kitchen even though at first they were not comfortable with it and wanted me to be a guest. It helped and they accepted me by the time we left, but they thought we were the exception rather than the rule for Spoiled Americans. When we left they gave me many gifts that I truely hated to take because I know they have so little, but knew it would offend them if I did not. I have to say that I learned much more from the village with its cobblestone streets and rustic living than I did from Guadalajara or the short trip we took to the beach at Puerto Vallarta. It was definitely a different country too. The policia carried M-16 assault rifles all around town and that was a bit intimidating. My son was put up against a wall for lighting firecrackers and they were worried about some carmax he had in his pocket and he had to explain it was lip balm. They were a bit intimidated by him because he is 6'5" and 350... he was scared to death! The guns really were a bit scarey, but after a bit I forgot they were even there. It was so much different than any other part of the country. I want to go back if you can believe it... I made some great friends there. I also badly want to go to Europe, a trip we had planned, but had to put on hold.

german said...

actually leaving your zone of comfort in general would be a good thing for all high school students to experience. since most students don't travel more than 250 miles from their home for extended periods of time they lose the idea that their are more than one way to do things than what they are accustomed to much less the different perspectives that are availible in rural settings or in large metropolis.

moville said...

that's right about the different perspectives...getting into some environments is the social equivalent of being thrown off a dock into deep water and told to sink or swim!