Americans are illiterate about other countries

Vince Ebert extrapolates: What if we were just as uneducated as the Americans?

When you mention in the USA that you come from Germany and studied physics there, Americans are always totally impressed. Most of the time they tell you that they also have German ancestors. A cousin of a brother-in-law who has a father-in-law whose great-grandmother was married to a man from Düsseldorf.

Natural scientists from "good old Germany" have a great reputation in America. This reputation essentially dates back to the 19th century. At that time Germany was the scientific center of the world. In Berlin, thousands of listeners flocked to the public lectures by Alexander von Humboldt. In the Charité laboratory, Robert Koch discovered the tubercle bacillus and the anthrax pathogen. Rudolf Virchow founded modern pathology and hygiene. Max Planck, Albert Einstein and Hermann von Helmholtz got together in the Prussian Academy of Sciences, and the mathematicians at the University of Göttingen were practically unrivaled in the world.

What almost no one is aware of today: Back then, the language of science was not English, but German. Every mathematical, medical or scientific publication, every specialist book was written in German at that time. If you wanted to be up-to-date in terms of education 120 years ago, you had to learn German.

That has changed a lot since then. In the current “Shanghai Ranking” of the world's best universities, American universities take the first ten places. The first German comes in 47th, the University of Heidelberg. But at least we have most of the sociology students-underscore-student-underscore asterisks in the 37th semester.

Since 1901, the USA has won more than half of all Nobel Prizes awarded in the categories of physics, chemistry, medicine and economics. In addition, America also has a higher than average percentage of young people attending college. According to the OECD education report of 2014, the USA was in 5th place with a population of 43.1 percent of university graduates. First place went to Russia with 53.5 percent; Germany is way behind with 28 percent.

Measured in terms of gross national product, Germany invests around five percent in education as the USA does. However, top American universities have significantly more budget at their disposal, as they are mainly financed through non-governmental fundraising. Wealthy individuals, corporations and foundations are pumping billions of dollars into education in addition to the state. Stanford, Yale or Princeton are not areas with just a few lecture halls, libraries and laboratories - they are entire cities. Harvard University's wealth is roughly equivalent to the gross domestic product of Latvia. And that's not a joke.