Focus on Learning: International Perspective

December 6, 2010

“On such an international campus as Earlham, I still find myself consistently defending the United States from those who attack it as ignorant, selfish and irrational. Yes, at times our government makes mistakes, horrible mistakes, but do not expect the civilian population to allow said mistakes to continue as a misrepresentation of what this nation was founded on; that would not be American.”

That’s the voice of Spencer Smith, another of our student bloggers, from a post entitled “My American Identity.”

Spencer reflects on his experience, first, at a United World College, (where he completed high school, and then at Earlham.  At both institutions he has found himself surrounded by students from many other countries, many of whom do not share the triumphalist perspective of the United States always being the best of countries.  That experience has pushed him to have a rounder, more complex understanding of his own country.  And not simply a more critical view.  Instead, he has found himself having to defend his own country, acknowledging its faults, but also seeing its strengths and virtues.

Says Spencer, “As you can imagine, many dining room discussions turned into debates on politics or history. Many opinions were shared, and for me personally, I found myself sometimes offended by what I felt is an ungrounded bashing of the United States. I found myself consistently taking the defensive.”  And thus he recognizes, “Of course, the United States is not perfect, and you can find numerous occasions where those ideals have been ignored, for example the Patriot Act, but when I think about the histories of other nations around the world, I conclude that the United States, comparatively, is one of the best places in ensuring such ideals.”

This is a central part of the case for making our education more international and more global:  for having American students study abroad in settings where they engage with the citizens of other countries, and for having students from other countries study at Earlham.  It changes the conversation; it deepens the learning.

He adds, “So, in this season of Thanksgiving, I am thankful to have grown up in the United States, and to have learned, from a multitude of shining examples, that I have a influential voice in ensuring my nation continues to allow for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, not only domestically, but also in the United States’ involvement worldwide.”

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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