Saturday, November 28, 2009

Americans learning a little history . . .

Korean Academy for Educators
(Image from Korea Herald)

Speaking as a historian, I'm all for people learning more history. Indeed, if folks generally were more interested in history, I'd likely have an academic position somewhere teaching that subject . . . rather than one in which I spend my time trying to teach students the fundamentals of essay writing. So when An Ji-yoon reported in the Korea Herald on "Educating U.S. teachers about Korea" (November 26, 2009), I thought that this sounded like a good thing:
The Korea Academy for Educators is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization based in Los Angeles, dedicated to informing American educators about Korean history and culture and the general Korean-American experience in order to promote cross-cultural understanding.
I especially appreciate the fact that the Korea Academy for Educators (KAE) is nonpartisan . . . or is it? Mary Connor, director of the KAE, offers an example of what they teach:
"For instance, Koreans should work to educate Americans about . . . the role of the U.S. in Korean history and the fact that we divided a country that had been unified for centuries."
I suppose that in an interview, one doesn't always speak with precision, but Ms. Connor's way of putting things doesn't sound especially nonpartisan. Saying that America divided Korea sounds remarkably like a talking point for the very partisan, 'progressive' Korean left. Based on the evidence, I'd have to agree with Robert Koehler, whose blog alerted me to this article, and echo his opinion that the KAE folks sound like the last people who ought to be teaching Americans about Korean history if the aim, as reported by An Ji-yoon, is to "ensure that Korean history and culture are correctly taught":
"In American courses on the history and culture of other countries, China and Japan are well covered, but Korea is not. This is one of the main reasons for my commitment to educating Americans about Korea. I want to help fill that void and ensure that Korean history and culture are correctly taught in American classrooms."
Teaching American instructors that the United States "divided a country that had been unified for centuries" isn't the best way to "promote cross-cultural understanding." It sounds more like one of those typical but inaccurate formulas found in politically 'correct' projects that promote American feelings of inferiority and guilt.

In a pseudonymous comment posted to Koehler's blog entry, a certain Seokso alluded in irony to the implications of expecting Americans to know detailed history on every part of the world:
Frankly, I was disgusted by my American teachers who totally failed to teach me about Korea and its important position in the world. Not only that, but they also neglected to teach units on Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Antigua, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan . . . . See where I'm going with this?
Netizen Kim, however, objected to Seokso's analogy:
Well, if you live in an Empire, the history book of the Empire is bound to be rather thick. It stands to reason, however, that the parts of the world that the American Empire has affected greatly (like as in millions of people dying in a war) should at least get more than a footnote treatment. Unlike, say, Andorra.
Aside from yet another instance of the currently very popular, but also very imprecise and misleading use of the term "empire," I have to agree that Netizen Kim has a point. There is, however, a downside to Americans learning more history, as I noted:
Agreed, NK. Andorra's historical drama gets sufficient attention from Max Frisch and thus needs no additional scrutiny from the US, especially given the American way of learning about foreign countries. I believe that it was Ambrose Bierce who quipped that "War is God's way of teaching Americans geography," so all of you out there grousing that Americans are still too ignorant of the world, take care in what you wish for . . . you might just get it.
Let's keep that in mind . . .

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At 10:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now I'm as miffed as that first commentor! My US teachers didn't teach me a damn thing about Albania either.


At 10:35 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Back in your day, I'd wager, Albania didn't want you to know a damn thing about Albania.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:06 PM, Blogger The Sanity Inspector said...

Whenever I read a foreigner hatin' on America, I used to get mad. Now I just remember that, if not for America and her works, said foreigner would likely never have even been born.

At 5:33 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I've heard harsher things while living in the States -- even as far back as the mid-70s in Waco, from a Marxist friend.

Concerning such remarks . . . once, I was injured, but now, I'm just inured.

Jeffery Hodges

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