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Analysis of the Term “American Exceptionalism” in the Current U.S. Culture

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Analysis of the
Term “American Exceptionalism” in the Current U.S. Culture
A Reflections Paper

Analysis of the
Term “American Exceptionalism” in the Current U.S. Culture American Exceptionalism refers to the idea that the United States is significantly different from other countries. The concept has origins in the writings of French scholar Alexis de Toqueville who made observations during his visit to America in the nineteenth century (Mansfield, 2011). Also, Puritan John Winthrop's 1630 sermon "A Model of Christian Charity" led to the widespread belief in American folklore that the United States of America is God's country because it would become a "city upon a hill", watched by the world (John Winthrop: "A Modell of Christian Charity", 2007). Although the term does not necessarily imply superiority, many political leaders and writers have coined its use in that sense. Naturally, others hold the position that America is not really exceptional at all. In fact, after taking a cursory glance at some of the issues that our leaders are charged to correct, we can easily peel off the loftier label and replace it with a more humbling phrase. To begin, America’s hunger issue is a strong reason to reduce our loftier standing. It is not impressive that in a country without drought or famine and with enough food and money to feed the world twice over 1-in-8 of our own people struggle to put food on its table (Berg, 2009). Also, in 2010, 4.8 percent of all U.S. households (5.6 million households) accessed emergency food from a food pantry one or more times (Hunger & Poverty Statistics). Reducing these numbers will be an exceptional task. The crime problem in the U.S. also keeps the country from meriting a prouder classification over other nations. One cause is its readiness to lock up its citizens. Consider that one American adult in 100 is behind bars (with the rate rising to one in nine for young Black men). Its imprisoned population, at 2.3 million, is greater than of 15 of its states. No other rich country is nearly as punishing as the Land of the Free. The rate of incarceration is a fifth of America’s level in Britain, a ninth in Germany and a twelfth in Japan (Crime and Punishment in America - "Rough Justice", 2010). How can we clang the door shut on so many of our people and rationally call it special? Finally, the support of our educational system is one of the more uncomfortable issues that exist in America. While our overall education ranks high among the world’s nations, and a large part of American society understands and appreciates the importance of education, another substantial part doesn’t really see the value. American workers’ past success in acquiring a high standard of living‒especially in the manufacturing areas‒has resulted in education having a very different role in our national culture. In Europe and Asia, mandatory schooling was vocational and designed to end child labor; very few students made it to the competitive levels needing top knowledge and skills. Conversely, in the U.S., study in the additional years was generalized‒traditional subjects of mathematics, science, literature, composition, and history were necessary. However, this curriculum wasn’t necessary to prepare students for factory work. It could prepare young people for college, but in many areas that was the goal of only a handful of students‒a group small enough to be ignored and often derided. Consequently, in many communities school became a social place, a staging area for the working years. Students went through the motions‒doing enough to get to the next grade‒but the expectations for real learning were minimal. In many parts of the U.S., we have effectively separated the concepts of school and learning (Walters, 2010). If America is to be truly exceptional, it has to insure that its citizens fully grasp the power of a strong education.

References
John Winthrop: "A Modell of Christian Charity". (2007, August 22). Retrieved from Academic American History: http://www.academicamerican.com/colonial/docs/winthrop.htm
Crime and Punishment in America - "Rough Justice". (2010, July 22). Retrieved from The Economist: http://www.economist.com/node/16640389
Berg, J. (2009, February 4). Hunger in the U.S.: A Problem as American as Apple Pie. Retrieved from AlterNet: http://www.alternet.org/health/115109
Hunger & Poverty Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved from Feeding America: http://feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/hunger-facts/hunger-and-poverty-statistics.aspx#_ftnref2
Mansfield, H. (2011, February 5). To the Heart of American Exceptionalism. Retrieved from The Wall Street Journal - Bookshelf: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703445904576118280961147392.html
Walters, G. (2010, July 15). The Real Challenge for Higher Education. Retrieved from INSIDE HIGHER ED: http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2010/07/15/walters

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