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    The Cultural Myth of American Exceptionalism

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    America is a unique and an exceptional nation. There’s something special about the United States being exceptional as President Abraham Lincoln addressed it as, “Last, best hope of Earth”. American Exceptionalism speculates American values, history and political system which are worth of universal admiration. America is a country who welcomes people from all over the world, the status of liberty at the shores of Atlantic welcomes immigrants with a lamp and a book in her hand, which holds a lot of emotional values for citizens to mark United States as a diverse and label it as a ‘melting pot’. The expression of American belief in public’s view is the sermon delivered by John Winthrop: a Puritan leader and first governor of Massachusetts Bay colony, his words were, “must consider that we shall by the City upon Hill, the eyes of the people upon us”. This statement from Winthrop has become formative text and identity in American history of being exceptionalism. America’s national identity is tied with the principles of Declaration of independence, “that all men are created equal” a complex reality is that this notion is changing in lesser or greater way. The concept of American Exceptionalism is as old as the nation itself which is equally important and has played its integral part in the society with the sense of its own identity.

    America is a product of Western civilization and political liberties inherited from Great Britain. In 1776, America announced its independence from Great Britain composing of thirteen colonies, clinging to the East coast borders and extended seizing Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California from Mexico in 1846. The theory of American Exceptionalism has developed with time but can be traced back in 1830’s by a French political, scientist, and historian Alexis de Tocqueville who described it as ‘exceptional’, when Tocqueville travelled in the US. The terminology of “American Exceptionalism,” was given by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin used in 1920’s. Five decades after America gained its independence; it stands out to other nations being the land of immigrants, the melting pot, being commitment to equality, and the principles of liberty and individualism. America has been usually attractive to immigrants from all the parts of the world. American exceptionalism portrays the economic and political opportunities, with respect of the American Dream, which describes surplus opportunities when immigrants become American by accepting American values becoming citizens in a nation where a better life exists and to which other people should aspire. American exceptionalism does not simply mean that America is different from other countries it means that America departs from the established way of doing things with an exceptional global rule. One of the most specific parts of American Exceptionalism is the myth of American Higher Education system which is seen as exceptional because it contributes towards the American Dream. However, the reality of the myth holds drawbacks of, private and public higher education, affordability of the institutions and equal opportunities for individuals.

    The myth of America being exceptional is highly crafted and well-nourished, and has passed through generations. The American dream is well-known throughout the world as it propagates itself by people who migrated to the US. It attracts people to come and enroll in colleges and universities and receive best education from the well-known and diverse institutions in the United States. The US higher system of education is large, complex and diverse both with public and private institutions. Its unique characteristics mark it different from other countries and cultures as decentralized structure: which means that they are locally governed or organized within individual state systems. The major difference of public and private education institutions is how they are funded. Most public and private institutions are founded by the state governments since 1800s, the origins of these institutions back from the time when the European settlers founded the first colonial college Harvard College founded in 1636 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Harvard College today is known as Harvard University and on the famous institutions in the world. Other Colonial colleges include the College of William and Mary, Yale University, Princeton University, Columbia University, Brown University, Rutgers University, and Dartmouth College. These institutions were founded to provide education for the ministry, but after the American Revolution, they incorporated medicine and law as well for the ministry. In 19th century the education system changed radically to subjects like agriculture and engineering with the land-grant emergent system following the Morrill Act of 1862. The Morrill Act granted land to each state to build colleges and universities, for example, the Michigan State University land is a land-grant property. These colleges were founded to provide mechanical arts and scientific researches, and in the second half of the 19th century the academic teachers and scholars also emerged.

    The public and private institutions developed more during the twentieth century. Today there are over 3,000 universities and colleges in the United States. Many of these institutions enroll 40,000 students or more on one campus. The federal government has no power over the Higher Education system, not even in the Constitution describes the word “Education” instead it is termed as “reserved powers”, because the Constitution gives direct authority to States. The maintenance and existence of public institutions is under State Statue the funds differ from State to State. For example the University of Michigan: the state funding is 10% of its total revenue, whereas, the reminder comes from the research, development funds, ancillary activities and endowment income. The private institutions are usually run by Board of trustees, Presidents and Faculty members who control financial resources. Federal funding most of which comes from contract of research and grants are 11 percent of total revenue for public institutions and about 14 percent of private institutions.

    The reality of the myth talks about the affordability of the colleges and universities in the United State, as the revenue is received from a lot of resources. Tuition rates of a public institution range from $1,000 – $7000 a year, while in the private institution ranges from $5,000 – $30,000 a year. The public institutions get 40 percent from state allotment funds. Whereas the private institutions depend upon the funding from companies, private gifts and endowment. According to the Education at a Glance report of 2018, the United States spends more on college than any other country in the world, including the family contribution, and government in the form of loans, grants and other assistance spend $30,000 per student a year, nearly twice as much as an average developed country. The public college system which includes two year community college and four year institution, three out of every forth American, attends this system of education along with federal aid and local subsidies. Private and nonprofit colleges and universities educate 20 percent of undergraduates, the sticker price of these high profile institutions looks like a Louis Vuitton store, which is not accessible to low and middle class families. However, they do provide aid but with high price of years of loan for those students. Some universities to make up for the cuts shifted to find richer students and enrolling students to make up the difference by full paying foreign and out of states students. For example, the Purdue University has reduced it’s in state student population by 4,300 and its 5,300 students from out of state of foreign category who pay triple tuition. The universities administration started this competition of full- freight paying students entry to subsidize the cuts, and once the colleges started to participate in the spending arm race, more and more universities had to participate in order to keep their application numbers up. The budget cuts are uneven across the country, for example in Wyoming, in state tuition is third of the cost in Vermont. In States where the higher educations can be bargain, the cost of living low with living at home expenses and poor enough to qualify for federal aid, taking into account of living expenses the student at a public university of Mississippi is likely to spend out of pocket expenses as a student in Sweden.

    The myth of American exceptionalism holds another drawback in the system of higher education the equality of opportunity for individuals. Under the title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which protects people from discrimination states, “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color or nations origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance”. The first attempt to reinforce this title Act took place in the same year when federal officials began visiting the institutions for discrimination, financial aid and housing needs which included the universities like Harvard, Yale and university of Tampa. Representative Helstoski has introduced the Equal Opportunity Bill to assure every American a full opportunity for adequate employment, housing, and education. He also introduced the Equal Opportunity Bank Bill asking for long-term low interest loans and increased construction grants to stimulate an increase of teachers in low-in-come areas. Education Department maintains an Office with 10 regional office and head office in Washington DC to enforce Title VI. In America all 50 states have education agencies, 17,000 local education system, 4,700 colleges and universities and 10,000 institutions, libraries and museums receive funds from ED. The equality of opportunity has never been realized completely, though the federal government has never wavered it rights in promotion of the education. However institutions with large percentages of poor students, low-income students continue to receive less than their fair share of funding based on up and down the nation’s decentralized system of Education.

    The American Value of equal opportunity is an ethical rule: by providing fair chance for an individual to enter and win. This belief was also expressed by President Abraham Lincoln at New Haven, Connecticut on March 6, 1860: “We wish to allow the humblest man an equal chance to get rich with everybody else. When one starts poor, as most do in the race of life, free society is such that he knows he can better his condition; he knows that there is a no fixed condition of labor for his whole life’. However, the intellectual potential can by swamped by many factors and process: but the most relevant is finances. More financially advantaged families can provide extra application enrichments to their offspring that low income families cannot. Students from lower groups of families sometime are often not able to attend highly ranked colleges due to the huge student debt or loans.

    In conclusion of the myth of America being exceptional has its own special qualities, as all countries do, but it is still a state embedded in a competitive global system. It is far stronger and richer than most, and its geopolitical position is remarkably favorable, just like past great powers, it has convinced itself that it is different, and better, than everyone else. In terms of higher education system in the United States, the institutions may share common values, norms but they differ in terms of governance, missions, finances and structure. The Education department needs a laser-like focus on all factors that help students to take cost-efficient way to achieve a degree, completion programs that slip away finances and other hardships. Millions of students strive in costs and debt for higher education, for this purpose the Obama Administration proposed improvement plans for college access, affordability and completion. To bring this proposal to act Congress, States, Colleges and Universities need to join that effort. From the largest Ivy League school down to the smallest specialized institution on an American Indian reservation, opportunities abound for every citizen to make a difference. The success of a nation does not only depend upon an individual’s success but a collective benefit that develops all of its talent.

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    The Cultural Myth of American Exceptionalism. (2021, Aug 24). Retrieved from

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