The title of Sude Yenilmez’s ’24 op-ed article subtly raises an important distinction. Americans in general are not simply ignorant of the world but rather willfully ignorant. The information they need to understand world cultures, history and geography is readily available, yet Americans actively choose to avoid it. Unfortunately, our secondary schools contribute to the problem by offering few classes on these subjects and those that are available tend to be boring or are loaded with misinformation. Just take a look at any high school history or social studies book and you’ll see what I mean. And this includes books about U.S. history. Americans are almost as ignorant about our own history and cultural diversity as they are about the rest of the world.
Yet to be fair to Americans, having had the good fortune to travel the world for 60 years and having now lived overseas for 20, it’s clear to me that the problem of global ignorance is not limited to us. I’ve sampled knowledge about both local and world cultures and histories in 27 countries on four continents. Most people I’ve spoken with merit a C- at best. However, in most cases outside the US the ignorance is not willful, rather the information isn’t readily available. The U.S. educational system plays a similar role by ignoring or whitewashing the cruelties arising from “Operation Manifest Destiny”, slavery and our habit of serially invading smaller countries around the world over the last two-hundred years.
Yenilmez’s suggestion that courses in global culture and history be added to the required courses list is excellent. To that I would add a requirement of at least one course on critical thinking. All the information in the world is useless if the brain doesn’t know how to critically process and analyze it … as demonstrated by the pandemic of wild conspiracy theories believed by many and the even wilder flights of fantasy buzzing around the glorious hallways and chambers of our government.
JAMES G. LUCE (Yale ‘66) is a graduate of Silliman College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.