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International Social Development

As discussed in the Preface, the importance and spread of global social problems have been growing rapidly. While the need to see beyond our borders increases, the skills with which to do so may be lacking, particularly for those born in the United States. Currently the United States stands alone as the world’s only superpower. Due to this dominant position, its citizens often put less emphasis on learning about other countries and cultures than these countries put on learning about the United States. English is considered the international language of business, and Americans traveling abroad typically encounter citizens of other countries who are fluent in English, reducing the perceived need to learn another language. In a recent poll, three-quarters of young Americans thought that English was the most common native language; in fact, Mandarin Chinese is the most common first language (National Geographic, 2006). The number of US elementary and middle schools that taught a foreign language decreased significantly between 1997 and 2008 from 31% to 25% for elementary schools and 75% to 58% for middle schools. The number of high schools stayed approximately the same at 91% (Center for Applied Linguistics, 2010). These statistics decline further as students enter college, where approximately 8% of students take foreign language classes (Modern Language Association, 2009). Study abroad numbers have risen and though fewer than 1% study abroad each year, 14% of graduates have studied abroad at some point in their undergraduate curriculum (Institute of International Education, 2012).

Those in the United States also have a notorious lack of geographical knowledge, both of the world and of the United States itself. The Nation’s Report Card from the US Department of Education found that fewer than 30% of tested students were proficient in geography (US Department of Education, 2010). A 2002 study of nine major countries found that youth in the United States aged 18 to 24 years ranked next to last (after Mexico) in their knowledge of geography. Ten percent were unable to locate the United States on a world map, and almost 30% could not locate the Pacific Ocean (National Geographic, 2002). If 10% cannot locate their own country on a world map, it does not bode well for knowledge of other countries. Indeed, 85% were unable to locate current world hot spots Iraq, Afghanistan, or Israel on the map either (National Geographic, 2002).

If Americans are to become world citizens, they must know their place in the world, both figuratively and literally. When US aid is sent abroad, either as armed forces or as financial resources, its citizens should know where they are going. America has fought two wars in Iraq in recent years, but in the National Geographic survey only 13% could find Iraq on a map that depicted only the Middle East and Asia, not even the entire globe.

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