So I'm living in a hotel right now because it seems to be the most sterile environment. Sterile is best since apparently I'm allergic to everything, literally, everything. I had my allergy tests today, and NONE of the allergens came back negative, meaning I'm a walking, talking allergic reaction waiting to happen.
My friend Alexandra Jane came to visit me tonight and we were planning to watch Finding Neverland, so we mosied on down to the front desk to pick up some treats for the feature film. An hour and a half later we made our way back to the room, too intrigued to even think about starting a movie.
As we attempted to buy our snackies, we met the front desk worker, TB. He said "uno momento, por favor" (which i thought was Spanish, but apparently the way he said it was Italian). We asked if he was from Italy, and he said, NO, he was from Egypt (that was the first time in this conversation that i felt like an idiot, he clearly looked Egyptian). Then he proceeded to ask about our education and how many languages we spoke. One, was, of course, our mutual answer to the question, though i sheepishly added my minimal but hopefully progressing knowledge of the Spanish language. He said, "that's poor." I agreed. I said that I hoped to someday be trilingual. To that he answered, "that's poor, I speak six." Turns out that Egyptian children learn three languages by the time they graduate high school. His next question was, "what is the greatest fault of humankind?" The way that the conversation was going, I thought I knew the answer--ignorance. Turns out I was right. We talked not as much about the failing US educations systems, but more the flourishing systems of Egypt, Germany, and Japan--countries who recently were devastated by war, but now take the 1-2-3 spots of education in the world. Where is the US? Number 9.
There were so many places in the conversation i wanted to agree with him, and a few in which i wanted to disagree. But first and foremost it just reinforced my dissatisfaction with American culture. You just don't need to have extensive knowledge of anything to make it in our society(overall attractiveness and rhetoric will take you long way). Hard work is severely diminished, and getting by with a passing grade is good enough. If you are in an Intro to Accounting class, and you know that if you pass it, just barely, you can make up your GPA in classes that you are "better" at. Isn't the point of class to learn and begin to understand those things that our minds previously failed to comprehend? I find myself falling into this trap all the time. For instance, my biology class. I hated it. Often, i would tell myself that it was the faulty system of Taylor that even put me in this class first semester, and thus it was my prerogative to shirk my responsibility to gain as must as was possible from it. What an attitude.
Perhaps our country, with all its advances, has begun to limit people. My school tested me in 8th grade, and told me what subjects would best suit me later on in life, what kind of job I should get. It said I should write, and read to become a teacher or a lawyer. But, I shouldn't attempt to do anything that required great attention to detail, like a surgeon. I shouldn't be a writer, but i could be a critic (which was an unfortunate thing to hear in and of itself). So, as an 8th grader, what do I begin to do with this newly acquired knowledge of my strengths and weaknesses? I began to make excuses. "well, i really don't have a math brain so to pay attention in Algebra II would be fruitless..." "well, i don't have a desire to ever think about the excretory system again, so i don't really care how i do on this project..." You'd think that perhaps this would be frowned upon, and perhaps it was, but I remember these excuses being made FOR people, by those who were there to teach, in high school.
Why do we not want to start mandatory language programs that will actually push people and not be simply elective courses in the first year a child enters school? It may put undue stress on the child...or something. Or the school doesn't want to do the work to find tremendous language teachers and begin to pay them too. Some schools have good programs, some don't. Here's my problem.
Its not so much with the lack of classes, as it is an IGNORANCE. Just like TB said, my lack of knowledge of other languages shows ignorance, but not just of languages, of cultures. After some thought, I also believe it to be pretty darn disrespectful. The majority of the world learns English. Most countries graduate high school seniors who could come here and live and speak fluently with in our culture (and probably with more grammar and syntax than most who grew up here). When they come here, they want to be able to communicate with us, why? because apparently they respect our culture (though i don't know why.) Most Americans, however, couldn't even begin to communicate with people of other-language speaking countries. Not only that, but also, they couldn't care less. We are being ignorant and disrespectful. We have failed to realize our place on this planet. We are not just the big powerhouse that can go in and fix people's failing governments and cultures. We have forgotten that most countries and cultures are infinitely (maybe that's a bit hyperbolic) older and more established than we are, and may have a few things to teach our baby country about its place in the world and in history. I don't think you can love someone unless you know them, and I, for one, do not know much about any other cultures. How can I expect to love and respect them? I can't, because i am ignorant.
(this was only the first 15 minutes of the conversation in which he went on to tell us stories of his life in the 19 countries and 49 states he has visited. wow. cool guy.)
P.S. the only reason I could have this conversation was because he spoke English. Without his knowledge of the language, we would have had a failing attempt at communication. My night would have been tragically less than it was had we not been able to hear his stories of his culture, education, vocation, and family. I want to be able to go to other cultures and hear more stories so that I may love and respect people who didn't grow up in a place like I did, people from whom I know I have so much to learn. I should probably start to learn now.