+
upworthy
Democracy

Trump wants our schools to 'Teach American Exceptionalism.' And honestly? We should.

Trump wants our schools to 'Teach American Exceptionalism.' And honestly? We should.
Photo by Josh Johnson on Unsplash

As a former teacher, I am always eager to see what presidential candidates have to say about education. Considering his wife Jill is an educator, it's unsurprising that Joe Biden has a 2600-word education plan-in-the-works laid out on his campaign website. With specifics such as improving teacher compensation, adding more mental health resources for students, providing universal preschool, increasing vocational training in high schools, eliminating the racial funding gap in schools, and more, there's a lot to look at and consider.

On the flip side, Trump's second-term plan for education is 11 words long:

  • Provide School Choice to Every Child in America
  • Teach American Exceptionalism
That's it.
I'm going to gloss over the fact that the first point is literally impossible (if every child in one city chose to attend the city's best school, they couldn't) because I'm more fascinated by the second.

It's not hard to guess what the president means by "Teaching American Exceptionalism." We need to teach kids that the U.S. is the greatest country in the world. Full stop. End of story.


Most Americans already grow up with the idea of American exceptionalism underpinning our educations, tacitly if not overtly. The United States is unique among nations, a shining beacon of democracy others look to as an example. Most of us emerge from high school with this basic understanding—that even with some occasional detours here and there (maybe we weren't always so nice to Native Americans, and the whole slavery thing) our country has had the distinct honor of leading the world down the righteous, moral path of freedom and liberty since its beginnings.

And that's not wrong in and of itself. There are wonderfully exceptional things about the American experiment. Our Declaration of Independence was groundbreaking, and our Constitution and system of government were like nothing the world had ever seen. It can be argued that we are a land of opportunity. We are the only country to have all five climate zones. We're the only country whose citizens have walked on the moon. Our music, our movies, our inventions are enjoyed by people all over the world. We've had some inspiring, world-changing leaders.

But if that's the main takeaway from our education system, we're selling our children short—by a lot. That brand of American exceptionalism that says "We're so great!" is a far too simplistic view of an interesting and complex country. It's a story designed to make comfortable and proud, but not in a whole or honest way.

A full, robust, and well-rounded education acknowledges and explores the ways in which the U.S. is exceptional in both great and not-so-great ways—and not just as an aside, but as a feature of who and what we have been. Exceptional doesn't mean great; it means out of the ordinary. It means we stand out in some way, good or bad.

It wasn't until well into adulthood that I fully realized how exceptional it was for the U.S. to have been founded during the heyday of the transatlantic slave trade. Even though I learned the dates in school and was taught (not enough) about slavery, it never occurred to me how intertwined our most precious and beloved history was with our most dreadful and shameful history. It wasn't really taught that way, and it took really diving into the fullness of slavery to understand how much that matters.

We teach American exceptionalism by focusing on the bravery of the founding fathers and their "live free or die" commitment to the cause of liberty. "Give me liberty or give me death" rings through the American mind as easily as a children's nursery rhyme. And yet when that statement was uttered by Patrick Henry, one in five people living in the colonies was enslaved.

One in five.

And chattel, race-based slavery wasn't a blip or an anomaly; it was a long-standing feature of our history. It would be nearly a century before it ended in the U.S., our economy being built on the backs of Black people the whole time. And it only ended after Americans fought each other in the deadliest war the U.S. has ever fought. Our exceptional nation nearly tore itself in half over slavery—not just "slavery" as a general idea, but over the specific question of whether white people had the God-given right to enslave Black people. That "right" was the basis of the Confederate secession stance, under no uncertain terms, in their own words.

I don't remember learning that. I remember feeling like the Civil War was more of a difference of opinion about the role of government, maybe a more extreme version of partisan politics today. I also remember learning to be proud of how Abraham Lincoln emancipated the slaves, as if he were righting a wrong done to our country instead of a wrong done by our country.

The truth is the U.S. was not exceptional because we abolished slavery. We were exceptional because we were one of the later countries to do so, and only after we fought an entire bloody war over it. That's how we stand out when it comes to this major part of our history. But the "teach American exceptionalism" standard would have us downplaying that reality because it doesn't match the simplistic fairy tale of American greatness.

I could go into countless examples of how American exceptionalism, the way the president would like to see it taught, serves only to erase or distort the full picture of our history. That doesn't mean we should focus solely on our warts, of course, but rather that we should give them the full measure of attention and honest assessment that they deserve. We are great in lots of ways. We're also not great in lots of ways. That has always been the case, and it's silly to teach anything different.

And contrary to what some might think, this is not me hating on our country. I love the U.S. I think we are a "young, scrappy, and hungry" people with high ideals who constantly fall short but keep trying. I think we have as much capacity for good and evil as any other nation and that we must take the responsibility for choosing which way we're going to go seriously.

I do think that teaching American exceptionalism in the form of "RAH! RAH! USA!" muddies that choice. If we think we are always right, we won't seriously consider the possibility that we could be choosing wrong. If we don't have the humility to examine our country and its history fully and honestly, if we can't see our positives while also looking our mistakes and missteps and outright wrongs directly in the face, then we are no better than immature teenagers who inevitably make stupid decisions.

So yes, let's teach American exceptionalism, but let's do it honestly. Let's explore at all the ways the U.S. stands out, good and bad, right and wrong, throughout our history. Let's acknowledge the contributions we've made but also the pain we've caused, and look for ways to make amends and learn from it. Kids can handle that, I promise.

Some might worry that raw honesty will lead kids to hate their country; in fact, I'd argue that it can invoke a truer form of patriotism. Deep love comes from knowing and understanding someone fully, in all their dimensions. Rather than, "I love you no matter what you do," I'd rather see a commitment that says, "I love you in all your glory and see you in all your faults, and I want to help you be the best version of you you can be."

Students don't need to be told a preschool fairy tale of American greatness in order to love their country. They simply need to be taught the truth.

Full stop. End of story.

Pop Culture

Two brothers Irish stepdancing to Beyoncé's country hit 'Texas Hold 'Em' is pure delight

The Gardiner Brothers and Queen Bey proving that music can unite us all.

Gardiner Brothers/TikTok (with permission)

The Gardiner Brothers stepping in time to Beyoncé's "Texas Hold 'Em."

In early February 2024, Beyoncé rocked the music world by releasing a surprise new album of country tunes. The album, Renaissance: Act II, includes a song called "Texas Hold 'Em," which shot up the country charts—with a few bumps along the way—and landed Queen Bey at the No.1 spot.

As the first Black female artist to have a song hit No. 1 on Billboard's country music charts, Beyoncé once again proved her popularity, versatility and ability to break barriers without missing a beat. In one fell swoop, she got people who had zero interest in country music to give it a second look, forced country music fans to broaden their own ideas about what country music looks like and prompted conversations about bending and blending musical genres and styles.

And she inspired the Gardiner Brothers to add yet another element to the mix—Irish stepdance.

Keep ReadingShow less

Kellogg's CEO tells people to eat cereal to save money

It doesn't matter if you're a single adult or married with children, there's nothing quite like having cereal for dinner or a late night snack once in a while.

Something about it feels nostalgic but it's also really easy to fall back on when you're too exhausted to cook a full meal. There's nothing wrong with grabbing a bowl of cereal for a meal outside of breakfast. You're feeding yourself or your family a food that contains some of the vitamins a body needs.

Maybe that's the thought process Kellogg's CEO Gary Pilnick was going with when he unintentionally sparked some serious backlash. Pilnick was interviewed by CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" discussing the cereal giant's new commercial featuring Tony the Tiger. The commercial itself isn't really the problem. It features a mom holding a box of cereal with kids excitedly awaiting their cereal for dinner chanting along with Tony the Tiger's call to eat the sweet meal.

The backlash came followeing Pilnick's comments about why his company felt the need to create a commercial advocating families eating cereal for diner.

Keep ReadingShow less


We all know that Americans pay more for healthcare than every other country in the world. But how much more?

According an American expatriate who shared the story of his ER visit in a Taiwanese hospital, Americans are being taken to the cleaners when we go to the doctor. We live in a country that claims to be the greatest in the world, but where an emergency trip to the hospital can easily bankrupt someone.

Kevin Bozeat had that fact in mind when he fell ill while living in Taiwan and needed to go to the hospital. He didn't have insurance and he had no idea how much it was going to cost him. He shared the experience in a now-viral Facebook post he called "The Horrors of Socialized Medicine: A first hand experience."

Keep ReadingShow less
Pop Culture

Monica Lewinsky reclaims the office power suit in new voting campaign

The activist teamed with apparel brand Reformation to combat voter frustration in a fabulous way.

Lewinsky partnered with Reformation for their "You've Got The Power" voting campaign

Monica Lewinsky knows a thing or two about reinvention.

The former White House intern became the source of media obsession after her affair with former President Bill Clinton become public. It solidified her place in history against her will, but through her actions since, Lewinsky has transformed her public persona into a feminist icon and champion of a powerful anti-bullying campaign.

Now, the 50-year-old Lewinsky is lending her household name to sustainable fashion brand Reformation and Vote.org in hopes to encourage people to vote this year.
Keep ReadingShow less
Pop Culture

Don't worry, Wendy's isn't raising prices during the busiest times. But changes are coming.

People were very upset after hearing that surge pricing may come to the local drive-thru.

A combo meal from Wendy's.

In a world where prices are continuously increasing, prominent companies are turning to surge pricing to raise prices even further during peak demand times. Uber charges people more for a ride when demand is high. Hotels have been changing prices based on demand for years and Amazon uses AI to keep prices constantly in flux.

Recently, Ticketmaster, known for charging high fees, has been charging customers even more for tickets as demand rises.

On Monday, February 26, news reports began circulating that Wendy’s, America's 5th most popular fast-food chain, would implement dynamic pricing at its restaurants. Many assumed that meant a Dave’s Double burger would cost an extra $3 during dinner time or medium fries would cost an extra buck during the lunch rush.

Keep ReadingShow less
Pop Culture

What is in its 'golden age' but not enough people know about it?

There's so much good out there if you know where to look.

Canva

From astronomy to knitting, some fields of human endeavor are having a heyday.

When you peruse the news headlines or dive into discussions on current events on social media, it's pretty easy to feel despondent. Doom and gloom sells, unfortunately, and our natural negativity bias that's meant to protect us can be overworked by a 24/7 bombardment of humanity's challenges.

There is an anecdote to all of that, though: Curating and cultivating the good. Sometimes it's just knowing where to look to find examples of problems being solved, discoveries being made, innovation taking huge leaps and other evidence that humans are moving our collective life forward in incredible ways.

Someone on Reddit asked, "What is currently in its 'Golden age,' but not enough people know about it?" and thousands of people responded. Reading through the answers is an enlightening and uplifting glimpse of things we might not personally be involved with but are happy to see having a heyday. Like, who wouldn't like to know that we're in a golden age of astronomy and paleontology. Space and dinosaurs? It's like realizing our 5-year-old selves' ideal future.

Keep ReadingShow less