Educated Abroad: the best defense is a good education

By Katherine Orr

I recently decided to store all of my academic reports and papers on Google Docs (because I am a neat freak even when it comes to my hard drive and I am trying to cure my “Delete” addiction).  While sorting through my documents I found this embarrassing reminder of my own naivety.  I can only assume I wrote this for admission to a DC internship program that I participated in immediately following my semester abroad in London.  I am fairly certain the prompt for this essay was something like “Why do you want to intern in the field of international relations/defense?”

I wrote this long before I even considered becoming a librarian, when I was thinking more along the lines of intelligence analyst.  Since deciding to really commit to librarianship, I’ve been unsuccessfully trying to reconcile my current career goals with my former interests.  It occurred to me while reading this, that perhaps my interest in defense and intelligence is the reason I decided to get my MS in Library and Information Science after all. I’m seven years older, my career goals have changed, my worldview has broadened, and hopefully my writing has improved but I am still committed to the essence of this argument that the best defense is a good education.

Education and National Defense

In meeting people of many varying nationalities I have discovered my own ignorance of the world.  Growing up in suburban New Jersey it was impossible for me to imagine that the life of a person from any developing country could contain any semblance of “normalcy.”  Upon meeting my first acquaintances in London, I was astounded to find that the girl with the British accent being educated at one of the UK’s best schools [universities] was actually from a small town near a jungle of Malaysia and that the very westernized guy across the hall wearing the Vans sneakers was a recent graduate of a very small high school in Afghanistan.

Judging from my own experience, American ignorance of other cultures is a contributing factor to our poor reputation abroad.  In allowing an embarrassing lack of education concerning developing and non-western nations in American high schools, the US is really harming itself more than anyone else.  We are taught from a very young age about the Revolutionary War and the Civil War and about the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution but the concept of a parliamentary system or an authoritarian government is not even mentioned (at least in my public high school) until senior year.

The epiphany of my own ignorance while abroad was jarring.  Any discussion of geography was truly embarrassing for me, and to sit at a table with four people from four different countries who are each bilingual at the very least made me feel that my education had been severely under par.  The fact that I had taken three years of high school Spanish and yet could not string together an elementary sentence was a constant source of amusement to my foreign peers and my year of university Latin seemed a massive waste of time while attempting to travel from Paris to Prague.

I believe that world history and current events classes, as well as more extensive language programs would prove infinitely advantageous to future international diplomacy.   A serious investment in education now could save the US billions in defense spending later.

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6 comments
  1. Our government here in the US wants us to be uneducated. They are then able to scream. “Kill the Terrorists” and all of us uneducated will rally behind what ever war they want to enrich the large corporations and broaden the power of the American empire.

    • It certainly makes the dehumanization of “terrorists” easier for the US when we are allowed to believe we are so completely different from the rest of the world.

    • Do you think that’s still the case under the current government? Under Mr Bush it’s perhaps not too much of a caricature. But Mr Obama was recently described as an “elitist snob” by Rick Santorum for wanting all American kids to have a college education. Does this not show a distinction between the two parties’ attitude to education?

      • If you look at the largest campaign donors to the democrats and republicans they are the same people and they give almost equally to both parties so I don’t think there is very much difference between Bush and Obama. There rhetoric sounds different on the surface but if you look at their actions it is hard for me to see much difference. I think both parties benefit from an uneducated population. Even college graduates are for the most part uneducated and uninformed less than 10% can describe the Federal Reserve, describe the relative size of Medicare, defense, Medicaid budgets, name the speaker of the house, president of the senate and so on. President Obama may want everybody to have a college degree but he does not want them all to have a good education because that would destroy both parties.

    • (In response to your reply to me…) Is that actually true that the same people or corporations (no, they’re not the same Mr Romney…) donate equally to both parties? Do you have the figures? I do not have reliable figures, but I’d be rather surprised if oil firms, for example. thought there was no difference between the parties. Indeed, Charles and David Koch, owners of Koch Industries (the “largest company you’ve never heard of”), are extremely partisan, based on their idea of which party will help advance their interests (ie the Republicans). It’s similar with Halliburton (tied to former VP Cheney), and I would expect for other oil and petrochemical firms. Similarly, I’d be surprised if arms companies were indifferent to which party held office.

      Perhaps you could give me some stats and refute these suggestions?

      Incidentally, as a libertarian, do you generally support Ron Paul’s views? This is just a curious question, not an ad hominem attack. But if you do, doesn’t he want to scrap the Department of Education…?

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