The "ignorant American" - a fair prejudice?

Discussion in 'Politics' started by GRO$$, Jan 7, 2005.

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  1. GRO$$ Registered Senior Member

    Having dinner at my girlfriend's house last night, politics came up and I mentioned the idea of "the ignorant American"-- that Americans are less aware of world history and events than the citizens of other countries. My girlfriend's mom asked me to cite evidence relating to the statement. I couldn't off the top of my head, so I told her I'd get back to her-- she pointed out the difficulty in quantitatively measuring data to make such an assesment. Does anyone have anything they know off the top of their heads relative to this?
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  3. marv Just a dumb hillbilly... Registered Senior Member

    ...and you didn't.....?

    An example:

    In 1999, my wife and I accepted an exchange student from Germany. Now Germany brags about their educational system as do most of Europe. Out of curiosity, I asked Nadine about German history. Since she was just seventeen years old, I didn't really expect much - and I wasn't disappointed.

    According to her, Germany "began" with re-unification. To her, there was no Germany before that. So I asked her who Bismark was. "Bismark who?", she queried.

    As things turned out, she had been taught nothing of WWI or WWII. She didn't realize that it was Bismark who "unified" Germany. She knew nothing of the reach for global empire by the Kaiser. She knew nothing of Hitler, the holocaust, Germany's defeat in two world wars, or the division afterwards.

    East Germans were lazy and only wanted handouts from West Germany Therefore, East Germans were hated after re-unification. Oh! One other thing. Nadine did know that her grandfather fought in a war (it was WWII) but she didn't know which.

    History is one of the most important subjects which one can be taught. The tragedy is that it is usually taught in a "memorize these dates, these names, these places" manner and the relevance is never really taught.

    I'd quote George Santayana, but since you started this thread you must be familiar with history, so I won't quote him.
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  5. otheadp Banned Banned

    when Jay Leno brings in retards (which are most likely actors) that think Guatamalla is a type of fish, and his show is watched by millions of people, these millions really start believing that Americans really are stupid.

    every person that goes through university has to take a history course at least as an elective
    highschools have world history courses

    while it's impossible to know the history of every country for the past century, Americans probably know on average about as much as Europeans do, except Europeans have an advantage since they live in Europe because it's their history while to Americans it's foreign history.
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  7. top mosker Ariloulaleelay Registered Senior Member

    Sadly, they aren't actors. He actually came to my university and they were random people. Maybe they were acting dumb for the cameras, maybe not... but they weren't actors working for the show.

    That doesn't mean that the history is presented in an accurate way (see marv's example about germany) or even more so that the students pay attention. Let's not forget that many people do not have any college education (mostly residing in the Bible belt or below)

    True... to an extent. I think the problem with the American classroom is that students are taught all sorts of fun facts and dates and people, but rarely are they taught the lessons we have learned from it.
  8. GRO$$ Registered Senior Member

    marv: Thanks for the story, but I'm looking for more than one-case examples. I actually went to school in Germany (and Russia, but I mostly have lived and now attend college in the US), and I can tell you that Nadine's ignorance was not the norm. We can think of people that are very ignorant of history, but what about cultural, nation-wide ignorance?
  9. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

    What about current events, however?
    Get you news from any major source in the US, then listen to the BBC on the same day.
    On network news there are very few world news stories at all, unless they directly affect the USA, and sometimes not even then.
    The BBC will talk of government collapses, coup attempts, successful coups, and a whole host of other top news stoires that don't even get a mention on the news here.
    Americans are exceptionally America-centric.
    When I started listening to the BBC news when I was in high school I was blown away by all the things going on in the world that I had NO CLUE about.
    Not to mention the piss poor American public school system and our atrocious literacy rate.

    My european friends are much more informed about the world (and history, in fact) than my American counter-parts.
    How much did they teach you about Bismarck (spelled with a "c" by the way) in high school? Not college.
    I would be willing to bet a paycheck that at least 90% of Americans between the ages of 15 and 18 have no clue who Bismarck is at all, and those that have heard of him know little about him at all.
    Those people on Leno, sadly they ARE the average American.
    Our reading, writing and math skills are pathetic.
    I am going to look for some stats.
  10. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

    For the time being Click Here and scroll down to Education.
    There are links to some good information there.
  11. GRO$$ Registered Senior Member

    I wouldn't give much credit to this... a lot of people don't attend college (and a lot of times, it's not really college), and highschool history class is a joke. I remember talking to my highschool teacher about the enormous disparity between how much is expected in 'normal' history classes and how much is expected in 'honors' history classes. She said that the department describes 'honors' students as those that want to learn history, and 'normal' students as those that are there because they have to fill the requirement, and don't actually have to learn anything. The problem, however, is that there is only one or two 'honors' classes compared to 5-6 'regular' classes. Within New Jersey, this is one of the top 10 high schools academically, and one of the best funded (top 3, I'm pretty sure). I find it hard to imagine what most of the other schools must be like... This is all US History, btw.

    World history was a freshman class that would serve to divide students into the 'honors' and 'regular' tracks. It was a joke, seriously. We learned things that were outright false (celebration of Stalin's death) and spent most of the time coloring in maps and memorizing countries and capitals (not that it isn't important -- it just doesn't belong in a history class).
  12. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

    How many people in the US knew who Bin Laden was or what al Qaeda was before 9/11?
    Even though Bin Laden was on the top ten most wanted list for the FBI long before that and the US was involved, in one way or another since as early as 1978 - 79, very few Americans ever heard of him.
    Most, if not ALL of the people I know from Europe knew who he was long before 9/11.
  13. GRO$$ Registered Senior Member

    Here's something on a similar topic--

    This compares the awareness of facts in Bush and Kerry voters. (If you want to discuss this, please start a new thread!).

    Pretty much, Kerry supporters know his policies (as well as all kinds of facts) much better than Bush supporters do. If I could first point to evidence that Europeans know history and current events better than Americans do, I could make the case that the result is a more corrupt and less effective form of government (both I and my girly's family are Kerry supporters).

    PS-- however, I don't want to use the backwards logic that since Bush got elected, the electorate is dumb, which is how I got there myself...

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  14. GRO$$ Registered Senior Member

    How many people in the US knew who Bin Laden was or what al Qaeda was before 9/11?

    Funny you mention it, I asked exactly the same question at that dinner...

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  15. Godless Objectivist Mind Registered Senior Member

    It's a conspiracy I tell ya!!.

    How else can you get a bunch of idiots to follow a fascist?.

    The dumbing of Amricans have been going on for quite a while it's nothing new, it is just about reaching it's zenith.

    I educated myself when I droped out of HighSchool and fortunately that education will never end till I die.

  16. Jolly Rodger Banned Banned

    ignorant American, you said enough there, although i have been known to use worse word when talking about these people...
  17. Clockwood You Forgot Poland Registered Senior Member

    I don't hold it against someone when they don't know jack about other countries. To most people, their home country is the only one who plays a part in their daily lives. The chance that the Taklamakan desert is going to come up in conversation is pretty damn small.

    I do hold it against them if they don't know jack about their own country. They should know at least the rudiments of national history. Perhaps not exact dates and weird twisted little details, but at least a rough outline of things.

    And by the way... the United States is somewhat better that it appears to be when dealing with education. In many countries, only those who really have potential go into higher education get the chance. America schools every idiot and slacker at least through highschool and gives them a chance to make their way through college. Thus, average scores are better in many other countries.
  18. GRO$$ Registered Senior Member

    Clockwood: maybe you are right, but there are a lot of colleges here (I currently reside in the US) that aren't very... 'serious', it's almost like play-college. You pay money, you get a degree, but you don't really learn much...
  19. GRO$$ Registered Senior Member

  20. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

    I'd like to see it.

    By the way, I grew up in New Jersey, I can personally vouch for their pathetic public school system as well.
  21. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Part of the appearance of ignorance is specialization. Americans in general work harder than is healthy, and they don't really have time for what their work ethic considers non-essential.

    As I see it, this explains a number of negative appearances about Americans:

    Americans recognize a skewed version of history: In addition to a certain amount of jingoism, the American curriculum usually teaches a very fragmented version of history. Some of the seemingly strange fascinations of conspiracy theorists and the American social-science fringes develop in response to an overwhelming sensation when facing reality. Somehow the jagged pieces don't suffice. The world in its broader context can be very confusing.

    Americans recognize a bizarre version of current events: Time is money, and efficiency demands efficient information transfer. Hence our strange obsession with what Doonesbury once called "news McNuggets". Desert Storm did for the news industry what the Netscape IPO did for the internet and, by some measures, the economy itself. Notice that the 1990s also marks the rise of the American sound-bite culture to possessing proportions. The bottom line is that compression equals loss, and in some cases distortion. The long-term effects can be shocking to the outside observer.

    Analogy - "Christianity in America is a Strange Notion": Sometimes we infidels hear our Christian neighbors say some things that seem to contradict our basic understanding of the faith they proclaim. In the modern era of high-fuel politics, information compression, and overextension of labor resources, it seems as if even something like religious faith is subject to the modern warp. There are other factors affecting the perception, of course, but every once in a while we hear someone say something that seems exactly opposite what they would generally claim their faith asserts. And they believe in it, and act on it. And it seems that they're not necessarily stupid as perhaps, just like their neighbors, too busy for the in-depth version. Who knows? Maybe it's just too many news McNuggets clogging the arteries of knowledge. Not everyone in the ranks is akin to the man leading the charge, and by that I don't mean Jesus. But whether it's the ballot box, the big gun in the briefcase, Falwell ranting about 9/11, or the indelible image of teenagers at Dave Roever's summer camp throwing records, cassettes, and music magazines onto a bonfire°, it's hard to conclude that what we're seeing accords with the accepted and asserted confines of normalcy or propriety. If we assert that perceived necessity demands superficial examinations and affirmations of faith, well, there you go.​

    In the end, it's simply that Americans, in general, are focused elsewhere in the broad spectrum of reality. Seriously, it all comes down to people expecting far too much of themselves.


    I promise.

    Between priorities of focus and an obsession with efficiency (or perhaps with the passing of time itself), a great deal about "What's wrong with Americans?" can be explained.

    (Yes. Seriously. I know it sounds simple. It is. At least, until we try to figure out what to do about it. But conceptually, it really is that simple.)
  22. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member


    I really don't think it IS all that simple.
    I think that any analysis about "American Ignorance" would be remiss, at best, if it didn't include the phenomena of "American Arrogance".
    One of the most disturbing trends I see regarding the American-centric point of view is not that people are too busy to pat attention ot the rest of the world, though that may be the excuse some ofthem use.
    I think it's that people here simply don't care what is happening in the rest of the world.
    "If it's not taking money out of my wallet, I could care less."
    Americans have a very short-sighted vision that is a perfect match with their short attention span.
    If it isn't directly affecting them right now, this minute, then it doesn't really matter.
    It goes beyond looking at world events, you can see it in every day behavior, politics, social trends and just about every other aspect of "The American Lifestyle".
    I'm not sure what causes it (I waver from time to time) but what I generally leap towards is the self-centered idealism and arrogant sense of entitlement that is the bastard child that our special form of Captialism and Democracy is breeding.
    People are generally apathetic to anything that they can't see directly affecting them in this moment.
  23. Spyke Registered Senior Member

    While I seriously doubt many American high school students have any real knowledge of Bismarck, outside of maybe having heard the name itself, I would be curious to know how many average German high school students learn about an American like say Teddy Roosevelt, other than a small percentage similar to American honor students who maybe have a greater than normal interest in foreign history. I admit I knew nothing of the chancellor when I was in high school (there were no 'honors' courses way back then), and wasn't exposed to the man and his significance in any depth until I took freshman world civ in college.
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