12 December 2008

Rome. Britain. United States?

IN ONE OF my 2nde classes we are studying globalization and looking specifically at two things: 1) how Europe and the United States will deal with rising energy demands, and 2) the rise of the so-called BRIC countries -- Brazil, Russia, India, China. As part of our discussion I made reference to a book recently released by Fareed Zakaria called The Post American World. The book argues that the United States is becoming less 'central' because of the rise of nations (think BRIC countries) and nation-blocs (think European Union). The point isn't that the United States is in decline but rather that the rest of the world is beginning to catch up -- something Thomas Friedman of the New York Times calls the 'flattening of the world.'

I'll make a long story short. I asked my students if they could imagine a world where the United States was not a super power. Almost all of them said no! While I agree (I really can't see a world where the US is not a major power), I wanted to make the point that all super powers -- or empires (Rome, for example) --feel invincable at some point, but in every case so far the empires eventually fall. And often the fall comes as a result of complacency, at one extreme, or over-reaching at the other.
'But Mr. Scriven,' one students said. 'Empires like Greece and Rome were a long time ago. We don't have those kinds of empires in the modern world.' I was ready for that line of reasoning so I presented the following two maps.
The British Empire in 1910

The British Empire Today

That made my point.*


* Yes, I know this is not a perfect example and that Britain de-colonized after WWII in a (mostly) organized and intentional way. But I'm talking to 16 year olds and my general policy in class is that if facts get in the way of a point I am trying to make then damn the facts.


Jeremy S said...

Let's not sell the British short to quickly now, they still have the falkland islands.......sort of.

Graceland said...

Ah yes, the 19th Century...the glory years!

Rick said...

You said your french is not great so I assume you're teaching english-speaking students, or am I wrong? I am a history teacher without a job. :)

Sounds like a great lesson. Right up my alley. Do you get the students problem-solving at how the U.S. could act progressively to remain a super-power? How they might be an example-setter (in a positive way) wrt energy use, consumption, diplomacy, etc.? Love this stuff, but trying to talk about it in my limited french is très difficile!

Vic Heaney said...

Well now, I think the United States began to lose its Empire even before Britain did.

I believe the Philippines got their independence in 1946. Perhaps it was a mistake for the US to start acquiring colonies in the 20th century?