Solution: American kids = global citizens

Mark Twain said "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness" and my personal experience tells me that is completely true.  So to eliminate those traits from America, let's send every American kid on four trips during high school, two within the US, two outside of the US.

At the start of every year a lottery assigns locations across America for small groups of kids to travel to sometime that year. Every Freshman (9th grader) is assigned a week or ten days of travel to a location in America that is the opposite of where they now live. In small groups of no more than five or six. Kids in Charleston might be sent to small towns anywhere else in the country to live with a local family for their week away. While there, they may attend the local school, hang out with local kids, experience the local culture, see the local museums and historic sites, do what the locals do which is probably pretty similar but also a little different than what the locals do in Charleston. White kids would be assigned to primarily Black or Hispanic or Asian families and/or communities, and vice versa. Before going on their journeys, kids would research where they’re going, start communicating with their host families and the local kids who will be there when they arrive, learn the local cultures and languages. When they return they would write reports and make presentations about everything they learned and present them to their classmates. All across America, 9th graders would be meeting other Americans who are nothing like them, returning home and talking about what they discovered.

Sophomore year (10th grade) the lottery would send small groups of no more than six kids along with an adult chaperone or two to the major cities of America. Kids from Bluffton, Edisto, Moncks Corner, all over the 1st district, would travel to New York, or Denver, or Chicago, or a dozen other large cities to attend museums, see the local sites, try the local foods, go to a local show, attend a local festival, play frisbee in a local park, do everything tourists to that city would do plus meet with local kids their age who aren’t out traveling at the same time. As in 9th grade, kids would research their assigned city before going and connect with local kids who will be there during their week away. Again, all across America, 10th graders would be meeting other Americans and experiencing the best that big American cities have to offer, then returning home and talking about what they discovered with their classmates who had been to other cities across America. A big part of high school becomes a focus on the outside world, becoming a citizen first of America, then of the entire globe.

Junior year (11th grade) the lottery would send small groups of kids along with a chaperone or two to the major cities of the world - Paris, Hong Kong, London, Shanghai, Cairo, Johannesburg, Buenos Aires, Tokyo, Toronto, Rome, etc., to have them spend a week or ten days experiencing all that city has to experience. As in the previous years, returning kids must share their experience with their classmates and must have prepared for the trip by researching where they were going, learning the local culture, history and some of the language, and then reporting on their trip upon their return.

Senior year (12th grade) the lottery would choose locations in the developing world countries in Asia, the Americas and Africa. Kids would again research their destinations, communicate with people who will host them before they arrive, learn some local language, and perhaps take on a project to help their hosts while they are there. American kids should see the desperate situations most of the people around the world live in.

My hope is that by expanding the teen years of American kids beyond their neighborhoods to include first the entire country and then the rest of the world, we will create new generations of Americans more open to unfamiliar cultures, peoples and thoughts and less fearful of “the other”. My hope is that in an environment in which every kid in high school is constantly talking about where they’re going and where they’ve been, who they’ve met and who’ve they’ve become friends with all over the world, a kid like Dylan Roof would never be insulated enough to hate anyone different from himself. My hope is that a kid like Dylan Roof would instead reject the fear and hate taught in his family and never be able to do what he did.  

Secondarily, my hope is that with nearly eight million American kids traveling all over the world every year, those kids become our best ambassadors for America, befriending other kids all over the planet. Perhaps a lot of those kids who today see their best option in life as being a suicide bomber would think twice about that limited future. Perhaps our American Kids = Global Citizens program would become an exchange program for students from all over the world. Perhaps we can reduce the number of extremists around the world when the next generations realize American kids are little different than they are.

Problem: Ignorance breeds fear. Fear breeds hate.

I’ve heard it said that racism is a “family value” taught by one generation of a family to the next. The same could probably be said about all fears of “the other” - people who are not like us in either gender, skin color, culture, sexual orientation, religion, or perhaps any other distinguishing difference - racism, islamophobia, homophobia, sexism, xenophobia, bigotry in all it’s forms. How can we keep kids like Dylan Roof from learning to hate people who are different than them?