In 1918 came the end of World War I, with some 2.5 million service members returning from the battlefields of Europe. In 1919 Tin Pan Alley produced a highly popular song with words by Joe Young and Sam M. Lewis and music by Walter Donaldson: “How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm after They’ve Seen Paree?” The composers were describing by implication a then-accelerating American demographic trend of movement from country to city. In 1790 some 90% of the U.S. population lived in the countryside; by the second decade of the 21st century, that number had shrunk to just two percent (source: The Khan Institute). A much more recent trend is American colleges and universities requiring that all undergraduates have some kind of significant international experience. Courses about a society other than our own, even foreign-language programs, were no longer deemed sufficient to open the hearts and minds of young people to the often-unlived fact that all people, even those holding another passport and speaking a different language, were people too. Those who having been following my blogs know that I myself had such an experience as an American Jew spending his junior college year as an exchange student in post-World War II West Germany....
Why is all this important? Well, consider these statistics. In the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election, some 54% of white college-educated Americans voted for Joe Biden, while only 37% of white non-college-educated voters did so. By contrast, the preponderance of those casting ballots for Donald Trump was essentially the opposite. Trump xenophobia obviously appealed to those Americans who had figuratively never see Paree. Of course, study-abroad programs are not the only way to open hearts and minds to the reality that, as the expressions go, “God don’t make no junk!” and “All God’s chillen got wings.” Some people are born with a natural sense of the universality of the human race. Others are raised by parents who instill that feeling and related behavior into their kids. Still, as a retired educator, I know from both personal and professional experience that exposure to people, ideas, and places outside of one’s immediate family and hometown can have a dramatically expansive impact on one’s worldview. When the young scholar in the New Testament asks Jesus “Who is my neighbor?,” it prompts the latter to tell about a hated foreigner, a Samaritan, who helped a Jew who had been beaten, robbed, and left for dead. Here Jesus, is making the same point: Everyone is my neighbor. No exceptions! In conclusion, I have nothing against farms. Though a big-city boy, my last name after all is a German word for farmer. My larger point is that such widespread personal enlightenment would surely make for a more peaceful world.