50th Edition, Global Education

Salzer goes global; broadening horizons

By Denebola
Published: February 2011

By David Gabriel,
Volume 47
June 7, 2007

In an interview with South Principal Brian Salzer, Denebola asked him his opinion on global education and his experience on Prague Spring and with the Fulbright Scholarship Programs.

Denebola: What got you interested in Global Education?
Brian Salzer: That’s a good question! The truth is I have been a big supporter of global education all the time I have been a teacher, but when I was principal in Wisconsin and was awarded the Fulbright Exchange to the Czech Republic several years ago that sealed the deal.
Going abroad, working with students, colleagues, and a new community, you can built lifelong relationship that can make a difference not only for you and your community, but, in order to make a difference in the community you have been a part of – the world’s a better place for your exchange.
People say I am silly when I say that global education can help international relations, but it seem so obvious to me that it how we can bring about world peace. The more people you really know, are friends with, the less likely you are to drop bombs on them!
Just looking at your experience, David, you visited three countries over a short but intense period. In the course of your life it is likely you will visit more, and get to know more people. It’s also likely you will put into action the exchange, the leadship skills you have developed. You may be a teacher, scientist, doctor, or businessman; you may become a Congressman or Senator. Why not President? Your relations in all those areas with all those people are more likely to be positive because you are informed, and because, no, you have a personal relationship with those you’ve just read or heard about. Hopefully by the time you’re in this role or that and have had these global experiences, you will have also learned that you do not solve your problems with other by killing them.

D: Can you tell use of two or three past global education experience with students?
BS: One particular global experience remains vivid to me although it differed from several programs here at Newton South. Students and I studied and the visited the Hawaiian Islands. Now as you know, Hawaii has its own culture, a complex interweaving of both indigenous and immigrant groups. The environment has a large influence upon those groups and their development and our program had a geology focus to a greater extent than your history and literature focus. We studied volcanoes, for example, alongside the culture of native Hawaiians.
From our studies beforehand we were prepared to observe and distinguish. We knew, for example, there were two different types of eruptions; one that explodes, and the other – Hawaiian word aho – which flows, like Mt. St. Helen’s in Washington. Words for different types are important, for one that flows gently, is perfectly safe, even though lava is flowing and you have the odor of sulfur. Nevertheless, exploring around that kind of volcano is pretty safe. Mount St. Helen’s, by contrast, is never likely to have a slow flow.
Volcanoes stick to the same pattern and you learn to make other kinds of discriminations, like what is happening or perhaps can happen by the kinds of rocks around you. Some will be jagged while others are smoothers. Each has significance. We learned about volcano tunnels and tubes, what happens to the soil as a consequence of volcanic action current or in the distance pats, and how rock in fact becomes soil.
So what the students and I experienced was a great trip but it was a trip and different from what I am seeing here in Newton.

D: You took your Fulbright Scholarship to a town 40 miles from the historic city of Prague. Why Pardubice and not Prague?
BS: Why pick Pardubice rather than Prague as the center of my Fulbright experience? That’s so easy it’s embarrassing to say – Prague is a city, a great city, a historic but international city. How do you experience a culture and a people in an international city? By going to a city or a village, you will encounter real people and their everyday lives.
Life in Prague is no less real than in Pardubice but it is far less filtered and far less overlaid with elements not part of past Czech experience. When I read Dominika Dery’s memoir of growing up a little girl twenty miles outside Prague, I recognize people I was friendly with in Pardubice.
The same would be true with someone from Central Europe comparing here, what would they learn of America if they came to New York City or Washington? Neither would be a good lens through which to view the United States.
Now, I can’t say I came to that perspective in a vacuum. My first experience living outside this country was in Costa Rica. I was working in a hotel. The main office was in a large city; the roads around the main office were like Boston’s, there were none like that around the hotel.
In San Jose everyone spoke English, and there were shopping centers. That wasn’t the Costa Rica where I was working, where everyone spoke Spanish, where people with my color of skin were rare or never seen before. You can imagine that it made me think.
When I had the Fulbright opportunity, I knew my visit and working with colleagues and students would mean sharing certain opportunities I had that they might not have. I wanted to give what gifts I had to those who might not have a chance, and for whom that chance might make a greater difference than if I had been in another place.
When I taught in Pardubice, for example, I was the first American those Czech students had ever met, and America was something students and teachers wanted to know about first hand. Roman, the student who met with those from Prague Spring in April, he couldn’t get enough speaking to me; like his friends, they had never heard an American English accent.
If I was walking around Pardubice and they called a parent, the boy or girl might say, I’m with the American. Everyone in Pardubice knew who I was: the American who was visiting from the Middle West.
So to work in Prague for six weeks, thousands of visitors from everywhere in the world, what you had to give would not be as much of a gift in Prague, would not make the difference I believe I made in the lives of many, perhaps hundreds outside in Pardubice, besides, of course, the gifts I was given.

D: What global education opportunities did the Newton Public Schools seem to offer when you applied to be Principal?
BS: The Newton Public Schools did not offer anything in the sense you are asking; they did not highlight some of these programs throughout the system that are taking place, and  that have taken place–some of them I now understand– for decades, some of them unique and models, like the Jingshan Exchange or Newton North’s Russia and Italian exchanges, the trip to India, or South’s Prague Spring.
D: Speaking before the School Committee recently, you made the distinction between programs and trips. What’s the difference?
BS: This is an important distinction and one that often gets blurred or missed entirely. A program is built upon an educational curriculum and is meant to give you an educational experience in the richest sense, whereas a trip is a vacation.
With the one you are a student in the fullest sense, with the other a tourist. With the latter, much like any vacation, you go to Rome and you have no idea what it is like to live as an Italian in 2007. The hotels, tours, and meals are packaged and rigidly run, you are surrounded by other Americans and if you have time to yourself, it’s shopping.
As part of a program, you first study the people, their language, their history, and their economic development and relation with other peoples- other nations. You may listen to music, look at their arts, try out words or phrases, and work your way through the city and country maps.
When the program goes into its travel phase, you aren’t reflexively shocked by what you see and hear; you are confirmed to some extent by what you’ve studied but what you know is altered by the actual encounter. It’s adjusted by real people- think of meeting the students from Pardubice, the two hours with Dominika at Charles University, and the question and answer with Dr. Munk at Terezin concentration camp.
Remember your conversations over dinner in Berlin with Martin Z, the man who actually filmed the film you saw, Good Bye, Lenin. One kind of experience is limited, programmed, the other is planned and leaves room for spontaneity and real learning.

D: You choose to participate in the Prague Spring 07 program—why that program?
BS: Two reasons. Because I knew that Mr. White organizes and directs Prague Spring like an educational program, and because, as I said, I wanted to build upon my previous experience in the Czech Republic. Continuity is important, and I have continued to stay in touch with both colleagues and students I came to know in Parbudice, and Mr. White and Mr. Rinaldi- in their February planning visit- continued to strengthen these relations.
I have emailed those students and continued discussions with them and with the teachers but you cannot kept those connections alive, nurture the relationship, entirely by long distance, by machines, and bytes.
D: What elements of Prague Spring seem to you most valuable for students?
BS: Safety is and must be the chief concern. You can’t learn in an unsafe environment, so teachers have the responsibility of making experiences as safe as possible. I think having a well-constructed program that gave you educational opportunities, in a safe environment, guided, led, cared for by well-informed and experienced adults.
You as students have some understanding now of what went into making your time in Cnetral Europe as positive as it was. You are also aware, you now understand how well taken care of you were, to make it so positive. Adult leaders took away certain challenges—which they judged unacceptable risk—so you have more positive, lasting experiences.

D: Are there any particular resources you see as important to strong global education programs you would like to develop?
BS: The biggest weakness of any global education program is our commitment from teachers to make long-standing program commitments. It’s exciting to dream of taking students to the Czech Republic, but taking another group the next year, the next ten years, that’s a commitment, and perhaps less exciting for those who must begin their planning the week after the last group has returned. For Mr. White to continue this kind of work for ten years in a row and to change the program with the changing conditions, to provide new challenges and experiences means a different sense of learning for him than for you.
Teachers aren’t all that different that students in the way new experience excite and enthuse them. Do you see another level of challenge occurs when a program gets past the initial newness? That is to maintain and deepen the program; it’s another level of challenge that is demanded, and must be met if the program is to renew rather than just repeat.
It’s easy for a teacher to get excited, “Hey, lets do an Australian trip!” A bigger step, a greater commitment is “Hey, we’ve exchanged a decade, let’s continue and keep making it fresh.” Not everyone wants to give up their February or April break, not everyone pushes to recruit others who have a passion for this kind of education, creating valid global experiences and keep them going twenty years all around the world.

D: What are some elements in global education programs you know about- outside Newton- you would like to see the Newton schools emulate?
BS: Let me shift the question by underscoring some dangers. A school or a system must be careful in its global education planning.
Global education is expensive in many ways. It tends to attract, by its costs, a certain demographic. Saturating any given landscape with one global program after another, then, only touches one area.
I mean, you must develop global programs thoughtfully so they meet the needs across the broad academic and socio-economic spectrum; everyone, in short, should have an opportunity to learn by traveling beyond their own, limited environment.
Prague Spring is several thousand dollars for nine days and can touch only a few. Tanzania we are talking about, that’s five thousand. My question is whether we can envision and develop programs that are global, and can do this for $800 or $1000, without compromising the quality of the experience. You can’t have the same, and just more of it.

D: Some have talked about a college or university relationship around global education, with Newton schools as global education sites for curriculum and degree?
BS: Any partnerships with local institutions must serve all parties. Planning must be thoughtful and purposeful before putting anything into place so that the school as well as the university, so that the students as well as the graduate students, benefit.
We do not want to create or agree to ‘exciting’ global experiences that are ad hoc, global programs that cannot live beyond those who have put them into place for limited purposes. It’s one thing to have a relationship with the JFK school in Berlin, or Charles University in Prague, as points of contact, as places for students-teacher conversations, joint tours, actual teacher exchanges.
It is another thing to agree to a BA with a local college that ends with the student or students who came to put it into place, for their Honors Thesis.

D: What have you personally taken away from global education programs?
BS: Meeting and getting to know people, and not only those we meet when we get off the plane. I mean what happens between participants, whether they are teachers or students.
David, you and I had a brief interaction with one another last fall about a schedule change. That was an important but personally slight encounter before our traveling together for nine days.
As a consequence of our time with the others, learning to depend on others and one another is a wholly different contexts, I feel you and I know one another really well.
Good global programs allow time for that to happen between teachers that, which happens between students.
Getting to know one another is the kind of relationship I want most as a teacher who must, in the course of a day like my colleagues, see to many kids one minute, so many five minutes later, solve this problem, work on that problem…and in the end not know one another as well as we would like…but now, we know one another.

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