America’s education system is built upon a rich history and diversity; we enjoy the envy of many in the world as a center of freedom and strong educational opportunities. However, during an Asia Pacific Rim International Study Experience (APRISE) tour of Chongqing, China, I found that comparatively our system may be missing a vital piece of the education puzzle. During our first full day we visited the Rock Carvings in Dazu. Here there are millennia old sculptures, carvings and engravings that detail the path to enlightenment. Based in Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, they provided background and foundation for us as study tour participants and provided understanding of the culture we came to observe and absorb.

As we began visiting schools and classrooms, the influence of China’s religious, cultural and social history was evident. This structure provides a strong foundation for their education system, a system that is becoming the envy of the world. In the United States, this type of cross-pollination is not possible in the public system. Not only is there the idea of separation of church and state, we also enjoy a vast melting pot of religions, races, beliefs, languages and ideas. Through internationalization however, our influence on China’s infrastructure and their influence on ours will soon change that.

In the near future, our reliance on popular culture, cookie-cutter politics and celebrity must give way to delivering ways for our students to find greater purpose and meaning in the world, not simply a higher socioeconomic status in the United States. We will know we have arrived when the debate goes from education being a private good/public responsibility to the idea that education is a global prerogative and human obligation.