Is American Exceptionalism – the concept – a good or bad thing? Do we assume because we are American that we are better?  I hope not. I did grow up believing that we were the best country in the world,  the richest and most powerful. I have visited other countries, and although I appreciated many things about other cultures and what those countries had to offer, I gained a deep love and appreciation for what out country does for its citizens. Many may not appreciate these freedoms and the high standard of living that we maintain (for most, not all**) here in the United States. I will refrain from discussing those in our country who, by claiming to endorse freedom, design to take away the freedom of others. I believe that the true American spirit will win out.

So, what is American Exceptionalism? Or do we want to think of it as America as exceptional, idealizing hard work, innovation and accomplishment? Many of late want to infer superiority of different types: military, capitalism, democracy. My intention of discussing it is not to create a political discussion. It relates to how we view and implement education. America is not better, but I do believe we created a standard of excellence over many years, leading the world in creativity, innovation and education, and that tradition must  continue.

I always believed we have the best education system in the world. Public education for all. Of course, recently, the facts have jarred — we are nowhere near the top five in education in the world. It was really shocking to me and disappointing. My passion became to change this fact. We need to foster education in math and science, STEM learning for all. Who would not want to do this? I think having my own children and witnessing what their education was like — what it takes to make it better as parent — was the turning point for me.  I know that there are schools that are doing a great job. I really don’t believe either of my children benefitted from this outstanding education. I believe I was always talking, asking, and really trying not to be too pushy, but probably looked at by some as one of “those” parents. You must advocate for your child’s education-if not you, then whom?

My daughter went through the  International Baccalaureate (IB) program in high school, and that program was finally challenging for her, and I think about as good as it got at the time. There are high schools now who embrace STEM education, math, science and the arts. This way is the only credible one to me. Standard teaching in math and science that is not conceptual, is instead fact-based, just won’t do.

Many schools take an alternative route, apply for innovation status which allows them to do things “differently,” but do they do it? Or does it take so long to implement and re-educate the teachers about how to teach that it is ineffective?

To me, it is simple. We are the country that put a man on the moon, and now a supersized rover on Mars bound to glean science unlike anything or anyone else. Keep your eye on the target–it is excellence, hard work and innovation. Anything is possible. Dream big and know that the dreams can become reality.

**It is true that many American children live in poverty, more than ever. Not denying this fact, I aim to improve education starting with early intervention to help these, and all children. Early intervention and education in general, is the best answer to poverty. If the US can triumph by sincerely educating everyone, we will be truly “exceptional.”   

Categories: 21st Century Education, Curiosity, Education reform, effort, extrinsic reward, Imagination, Innovation, intrinsic reward, Life Long Learners, motivation, self-esteem, social/emotional wellness, Uncategorized


  1. Ruth,

    I struggle with your question on a micro level – do I try to raise my children to believe they are exceptional? I know that telling my child “you’re brilliant” is actually a de-motivator and makes them not want to take risks, but complementing them on hard work has shown to fuel the intrinsic motivation to excel. Yet, what do I do with a child who resigns himself to not having the drive of an Olympic athlete or world champion and is okay with mediocrity. What do I do with a child who employs an economy of effort in every task rather than giving it his best. What do I do with a child who assumes the chinese and indian students will win the science fair and he shouldn’t bother trying? Tom Friedman and Mike Mandelbaum ask the same question in their latest book “That Used To Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World it Invented and How we Can Come Back” when they comparing a broken escalator at a New Jersey train station still under construction after six months with the Tianjin Meijiang Convention and Exhibition Center—a massive, beautifully appointed structure China built in eight months. We are exceptional. Competitiveness, capitalism, and pride are not in and of themselves human failings, it is only when they go to extremes of trampling the rights of others that they are a disservice to our humanity. I agree – dream big, and put forth the effort to make dreams come true.

    • Ellen,

      I agree with your ideas. My point is to dream big, for those who choose to do that. I want students to know that they can make their dreams reality, not to be shut down by those who pose objections. It is challenging when a child does not seem motivated or willing to explore and fulfill potential. I understand this problem and I wish I had a better answer. I think you motivate by example and that accomplishment and achievement will help build confidence and motivation. At the same time, it is also an individual’s right to do what they wish with their abilities. Perhaps that sounds like a contradiction to the idea of promoting exceptionalism, but my intention is always to encourage, enlighten and inspire kids to be their best self.

      I understand that a child gets discouraged from various experiences, his or her own ideas not being successful or realized, as well as watching others do better. I think it is important to learn that there is always someone smarter, but not to let that intimidate you from doing what you dream. Hard work and perseverance will be rewarded. At the same time, it is important to teach values and understand that competition and motivation can and does get ugly when out of control.

      My son has said it too – that so and so is smarter based on their ethnic background. I don’t honor those statements. Instead, I reiterate that it is your life and your self with which you need to concern yourself. Compete with your self and be the best you can be. To me it is an obligation to give back from which we are given. Hard work solves a lot of problems. Children need to see and learn that hard work is key, talent is just a given. You don’t do anything to deserve being given the talent, that is the luck of the draw. What you do with that talent to be exceptional, on any level, will make a difference and is what counts.

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