Exceptionalism Strikes in the College Classroom

To the Editor:

I teach history at a community college in the suburbs of Philadelphia. I recently asked a question in class: “Is an American life worth more than a Palestinian life or worth more than the life of a foreign-born person?” A talented and promising student answered “Yes,” leaving most of the class astonished.

One of the things that attracted me to teaching at the college level was the assumption that such comments would be made hesitantly, but then I thought, “Why would I assume that?” Our educational system is centered on an expectation of a self-absorbed conformity and our overall national identity is extremely localized. In some ways this student said nothing controversial or out of the ordinary. Most people, including myself, are concerned with their surroundings and the lives of their families and friends. But we need to ask ourselves if the idea of American exceptionalism violates rational thought, and, if so, how automatically discounting the “other” became pervasive in our culture?

Daniel J. Falcone
Media, Pa.

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