No Comment — June 15, 2007, 1:58 am

American Higher Education and Foreign Policy

America under George Bush embarked upon a remarkably assertive foreign policy placing heavy reliance on the use of force of arms and downplaying diplomacy. As a presidential candidate in 2000, Bush promised that “humility” would be the keynote of his foreign policy. What he delivered was of course anything but humble.

Still America’s reputation abroad was once the envy of much of the developed world, and to a considerable extent that reputation did not rest either on military might, or diplomacy. Instead it was a commitment to education, broad support for education programs – especially higher education – and the superiority of America’s model of higher education that made the difference. That explains why dozens of “American universities” now span the globe. They are not in any respect to be equated with Donald Rumsfeld’s “lilypads,” the system of ready-to-operate military bases constructed around the globe. To the contrary, these universities are successful because, like the American institutions they take as a starting point, they define themselves in terms of service to their community. It’s difficult, for instance, to imagine a more intensely anti-Bush Administration environment today than Beirut or Cairo, and yet the American universities in these cities have grown deep roots that place them right at the center of the communities they serve, and insulate them from rough times when relations with Washington sour.

A fascinating article appearing recently in China’s Oriental Morning Post helps make this point. The article is captioned “Why American Schools Create Better Leaders Than Ours …” and it proceeds to make a strong case for the superiority of the American higher education model across the board. But the author argued that the system started very early, with a process that challenges youth to think for themselves.

To cultivate our future citizens with a strong sense of responsibility, we must therefore let them organize and judge among themselves. After all, children cannot obey parents and teachers for the rest of their lives. When they grow up they should be independent, free-thinking individuals and make their own choices in life. Our educational system should prepare them for a future of taking responsibility.

Even as the world unites in an increasingly critical posture towards America over its foreign policy misadventures, our educational system remains the world’s envy. America’s recovery of its authority and respect on the world stage must start by capitalizing on this vital asset.

The German philosopher-poet Friedrich Schiller argued, in one of his great historical lectures delivered at the University of Jena, that there are only two forces in the world that were capable of improving the condition of mankind: legislation – by which he meant both the process of making laws and forming social morals – and education. Progress will occur most smoothly when both of these tools are used together. And war, he said, would never be effective as an agent for positive social transformation. Too often the law of unintended consequences kicks in, producing a result that was unplanned. The experience of a neo-imperial policy in Iraq and Afghanistan is quickly validating his final observation. But his arguments about education seem very promising, and particularly of benefit to American foreign policy makers.

They may easily be dismissed as “tools of the weak,” but in the strength of America as a great nation of educators is far better attuned to the accomplishment of American objectives on the world stage – particularly if those aims include the founders’ vision of spreading freedom, prosperity and happiness. At this point education is the one tool in our foreign policy arsenal of which no American need feel anything other than pride.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

From the June 2014 issue

The Guantánamo “Suicides,” Revisited

A missing document suggests a possible CIA cover-up

No Comment March 28, 2014, 12:32 pm

Scott Horton Debates John Rizzo on Democracy Now!

On CIA secrecy, torture, and war-making powers

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

October 2014

Cassandra Among the
Creeps

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Today Is Better Than Tomorrow”

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

PBS Self-Destructs

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Monkey Did It

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
 
Rebecca Solnit on silencing women, a Marine commander returns to Iraq, the decline of PBS, and more
Article
Cassandra Among the Creeps·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On silencing women
“The old framework of feminine mendacity and murky-mindedness is still routinely trotted out, and we should learn to recognize it for what it is.”
Photograph © Sallie Dean Shatz
Post
Ending College Sexual Assault·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“This is not a fable about a young woman whose dreams were dashed by a sexual predator. Maya’s narrative is one of institutional failure at a school desperately trying to adapt.”
Photograph © AP/Josh Reynolds
Post
 
"Clothes are a bit like eating: you have to dress yourself. You have to eat, and even if you eat pizza all day long, that’s still a choice."
Photograph © G Powell
Article
“Today Is Better Than Tomorrow”·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Iraq has every disease there is; its mind is deranged with too many voices, its organs corrupted, its limbs only long enough to tear at its own body.”
Photograph by Benjamin Busch

Abortions per 1,000 live births in New York City:

852

Researchers discovered an “Obama effect”: African Americans’ performance on a verbal test improved, to equal that of white Americans, immediately after Obama’s nomination and his election.

“All I saw,” said a 12-year-old neighbor of visits to the man’s house, “was just cats in little diapers.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today