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Education and Imperialism

Education is important. I don’t think any of us would attend a challenging university like Richmond if we did not believe in the power of knowledge. Today’s readings on American Imperialism and American Exceptionalism revealed a lot to me about how our education system persuades our perception of our country. For example, many of us learned about the atrocities committed by European imperial powers in Africa and Asia in the late 19th and 20th century. We learn about the Belgians in the Congo and the British in India, but we don’t learn about the Americans in the Philippines. Indeed, American control of the Philippines resulted in countless murders and the subjection of terrible conditions onto Filipinos. Still, many American history classes do not detail this part of American history. Instead, we choose to focus on other parts of our history during the same time period such as the creation of Unions and National Parks. I believe a good example of the one-sided history taught in the American education system is the history of the Panama Canal. For myself, and I suspect many American school children, the creation of the Panama Canal is taught as a feat of American greatness. The engineering masterpiece provided an economic good to the world and the people of Panama — or so the history says. In reality, the United States overthrew the Colombian government in Panama and controlled the area until the canal was fully constructed. While the canal did open trade routes for the global economy, the history we learn does not recognize how Panama was gifted and immediately stripped of its Independence by the United States in order to build the canal.

If we establish that our educational system teaches us lies about the history of American foreign policy, we must question our education’s effects on society. When examining the Walt article it becomes clear that American education is designed to foster a sense of pride in our nation which easily flows into American Exceptionalism. By not learning the entire history of our countries actions — both domestically and abroad — we shutter ourselves from gaining an honest look at our country. Instead, we inject ourselves with a dopamine of pride that encourages a belief in superiority. This belief in superiority becomes dangerous when people begin to perceive America as standing for and representing one people or idea. Instead of promoting a diverse, nuanced understanding of the world, Americans promote a world view that sees Americans as superior. When this is combined with a domestic history of racism and sexism, the toxic parts of American society quickly spread to the rest of the world. If America reformed their education system, this could be combatted. If children grow up to understand that their country is not infallible, they will believe they have obligation to make it better. Thus, rethinking how we tell American history to our children could have major, important impacts on our society.

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4 Comments

  1. Charley Blount Charley Blount

    I really like your last two sentences. They tie the textbook reading to the article we read about American Exceptionalism. If schools continue to reinforce the idea that America is inherently better than other nations, then we will continue to make the same mistakes that have hurt us in the past.

  2. Tess Keating Tess Keating

    I agree with you. Growing up I always undoubtedly believed the US to be the most superior nation, but the more I learn the less I believe it. As kids I feel like we were just taught the good things about the US and if we were taught bad things they were made out to be just tiny blips and play them down.

  3. Jeffrey Sprung Jeffrey Sprung

    I have the exact same belief that the American education system catalyzes the belief of American Exceptionalism. In my history classes in middle and high school, I was constantly reminded that United States is superior in comparison the rest of the world. Now I agree that this is problematic as we limit our ability to view our country’s history in a diverse manner when we constantly view ourselves as superior.

  4. Sophia Picozzi Sophia Picozzi

    I never thought about education in the way that you mentioned which is that it can foster a new generation of people wanting to change the country, and I think that is a very good and sound point to make. I feel like society and people in power always oppose teaching history that makes the US look bad because they think it will encourage people to hate our country and do destructive things against it, however I agree with you that it would do the opposite and foster an environment for change.

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