Friday, April 15, 2011

US Plans to Hide Behind an Iron Curtain

Contrary to what Cold War ideologues might want us to believe, the US and the USSR had a lot in common. Now that the Soviet Union is dead, the United States is still faithfully implementing many of the most famous Soviet practices. To give an example, governmental bailouts to non-viable companies deemed "too big to fail" were a central feature of the Soviet economy. Now the US is taking its pro-Soviet policies even further in its plan to hide the country behind an iron curtain of its own making. Inside Higher Ed reports:
When a chart of all cuts in the 2011 budget passed by Congress on Thursday was made public earlier this week, international-education advocates received an unpleasant surprise: funding for foreign language and area studies programs within the Education Department could be cut by as much as $50 million. . . The biggest losses could come in the Education Department: if agency-level budget cuts lists on the House Appropriations Committee website are enacted, programs that emphasize foreign languages and area studies could lose up to 40 percent of their budgets. . . Programs that fall under the Title VI umbrella include National Resource Centers, grants to universities for modern foreign language study; the Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowships; Language Resource Centers, which research teaching and learning of foreign languages; and centers for international business education and research, among others. Many emphasize languages and regions that are considered strategically important or are infrequently studied. The Education Department also administers Fulbright grants for doctoral dissertations, faculty research, group projects and seminars abroad.
To say that American students need more exposure to foreign languages and cultures is an understatement of the year. In spite of all the available technology, my students' ignorance about the world they live in is daunting. Many arrive in college without even knowing the names of the continents. When I ask them to locate Latin America on the map of the world, many have no idea where to look. Quite a few cannot name the countries that share a border with the US. It is needless to say that I never see American students who speak any language other than their own. Many of them tell me that they took several years of Spanish in high school but that always turns out to have been a useless waste of time because of the extremely poor quality of instruction.

None of this is new to me. In the Soviet Union, we also pretended to study foreign languages in high school and the results were just as inadequate. Teaching of foreign languages on the college level was seen by the administrators and the government as an afterthought. Departments of foreign literature either did not exist or were a sad joke. Nobody could speak any foreign languages to save their lives. A country that lived behind an iron curtain closed itself off completely to languages, literature and culture of other countries.

Now that the countries of the former Soviet Union got rid of their iron curtain, the US is creating one of its own. 

Le Roi est mort, vive le Roi!


Tim said...

I don't think the consequences will be as bad as it was for the Soviet Union.

After all, there are other countries out there in which english is spoken which weren't annexed by the US.

They speak english in at least the UK, Canada and Australia. At least that is what I heard.

Also, even if people in the US cannot speak any other languages, there is still a hell lot of publications in english comming from non-english-speaking countries.

Stephanie said...

US and USSR superficially had a lot in common. For example, both had border guards maintaining their frontiers. But USSR guards kept citizens in, and the US guards kept people out. That one difference tells us much about the two societies.

Pen said...

The French statement at the end is especially effective at conveying the irony of the situation.

This news is especially disheartening, because the only way to actually learn from other people--whether in the past or the present--is to study their culture, language, and beliefs. The US is losing valuable opportunities at understanding the many people to which they don't like to listen.

It makes me wonder, though: does being a superpower mean shutting out others? Just the fact that the US and the USSR were pretty much mirror images of each other tells me that being a superpower makes such "iron curtains" inevitable. Just look at the British and Spanish Empires--to build unity, they attempted to limit ideological diversity. Nazi Germany did it too, as well as the Austro-Hungarian Empire before World War I. This is exactly what the US and the USSR have done/are doing.