At a bookstore in Massachusetts I had a conversation with the owner and told him I teach Hawaiian history. He said, “So itʻs a kind of local history?” Often, when discussing courses on Hawaiian history, comparisons are made with “other state histories,” i.e., California, New York. This is even done when the course is called “History of the Hawaiian Kingdom” – how is this comparable to a state or local history? Is this not a national history? There seems to be a mental block in many people when thinking about Hawaiʻi as a country, even when looking at the nineteenth century. Simple pronouns like “we” become problematic – who are “we?” The United States? In the nineteenth century? I call this process of retraining thinking like a state.
I have had college students who are skeptical that such a concept as sovereignty even exists. (See my post “What is Sovereignty?”) What they think happens with passports at international boarders I’m not sure. To think this way requires an extreme form of provincialism – ask most Americans how many countries there are and they have absolutely no idea (it’s 196, and Hawaiʻi as a country would rank 66th in terms of the size of its economy currently – 50% larger than New Zealand!).* American innumeracy and ignorance is well-known and staggering. According to the UK’s Independent:
* 41 per cent of Americans believe China is the world’s leading economic power, according to a 2012 Pew poll (the correct answer is the United States, which 40 percent of respondents in the Pew poll selected).
* 73 per cent of Americans could not identify communism as America’s main concern during the Cold War, according to Newsweek, which administered an official citizenship test in 2011.
* 9 per cent of Americans frequently worry about becoming victims of terrorism, according to a 2011 AP-GfK poll (Reason magazine has calculated that the chances of being killed by a terrorist are roughly one in 20 million, and that “in the last five years you were four times more likely to be struck by lightning than killed by a terrorist”).
* Nearly 25 per cent of Americans don’t know that the United States declared its independence from Great Britain, according to a 2011 Marist poll.
* 71 per cent of Americans believe Iran already has nuclear weapons, according to a 2010 CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll (Israel, the United States, and the International Atomic Energy Agency would beg to differ).
* The average American thinks that the United States spends 27 per cent of the federal budget on foreign aid, according to a 2010 World Public Opinion poll (the figure is more like 1 percent).
* 33 per cent of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was personally involved in 9/11 as late as 2007, according to a CBS News/New York Times poll (it’s worth noting that the number was down from 53 per cent in 2003, and that more recent polls suggest the percentage has continued to decline since 2007).
* 88 per cent of young Americans couldn’t find Afghanistan on a map, 75 per cent couldn’t locate Iran or Israel, and 63 per cent couldn’t identify Iraq, according to a 2006 Roper Public Affairs/National Geographic Society poll.
Note: the survey in the video above was conducted at Texas Tech. Not the best university you say? It was repeated with nearly identical results at George Mason in Washington DC!
Studs Terkel wrote in the 1970s and 80s not about ignorance among American students, but about the acceptance of ignorance. In many ways, this ignorance serves the ruling elite. Being part of this wallowing sloth of the mind certainly does not serve Hawaiians. Think about what happened upon “annexation:” Hawaiians went from the highest literacy rate in the world to the lowest performing group educationally in the “dumbest” state in the US, measured by SAT, ACT scores and college completion. Itʻs time we deconstructed American exceptionalism.
- Hawaiʻi’s economy is $76 billion, New Zealand’s is $50 billion.