This week I had cause to reflect on my public school education and compare it to my child’s. What has changed in 30+ years? What is different from education in one state compared to another?
One blindingly apparent trend is the fact that a basic civics course is missing from my child’s education. I am many years later grateful I was forced to sit through a stiflingly boring semester or year(?) of Civics class as a young teen. It helped me to understand the nuts and bolts of my country’s system of government, information as an adult I appreciate having. This 2015 article tells me only 8 states require civics testing, and it is widely believed few born and raised Americans can pass the same citizenship test given to those seeking to become citizens. With so much talk about who deserves to be a true American these days, I wonder if I would pass.
The most powerful way to learn about our world is through personal interaction with others sharing their stories. So even though I always wondered why educational curriculum in the US essentially ignores more than half the world’s population, in my 20s I learned about some of the rich human cultures from Africa, India and Asia by direct communication with people from those regions.
I think I know why not much is mentioned about Africa in our public education. Denial is a river. But Americans deserve a bit of understanding about a continent with 54 countries of rich cultural traditions, not to mention that the most popular scientific theory right now makes it the birthplace of every human on the planet.
China, anyone? 160 cities with more than 1 million people. US has nine such cities.
India? In six years, India is projected to be the world’s most populous country.
And what about Latin America? South America includes 12 countries with many distinct languages and cultures, shares a border with the United States. What I know about the breadth of American history is by accident from having grown up in New Mexico, a young state in the union that was part of South America until about a century ago. Meeting Native Americans firsthand gave me a broader perspective of American history preceding 1500.
Despite my life experiences and travel, I feel ignorant about my own country and the world’s peoples. How can we behave like responsible global citizens if we cannot respect or at least attempt to learn about the world around us? One of my goals is to dust off my innate curiosity and continue to learn.