Teachers and the Transatlantic Relationship
GMF is pleased to announce that Jason Knoll received an honorable mention in the GMF Blog Competition on Transatlantic Cooperation. Historically speaking, the transatlantic relationship has been centered on two main components: security and economics. In the wake of recent events in Ukraine and the tentative Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, those two components are vital to the transatlantic renaissance. If we want to strengthen the relationship even more, however, we need to consider the role of public diplomacy at a more local level, and in particular, teacher exchanges. The transatlantic relationship is important to me personally because it is a part of my identity. When I was in the U.S. Army, I was stationed in Germany for two and a half years and was able to improve my German language skills, see Germany, and even travel to the Netherlands. During the first nine years of my teaching career, I taught three high school courses on European history and took graduate courses in European history and politics. As a result of my experiences as a soldier and a teacher, I gained a deeper appreciation of the cooperation and cultural understanding necessary for transatlantic relations. Since January 2011, I have been forming my own transatlantic relationships via social media, in particular Twitter. Being able to participate in conversation with people all across Europe has led to meaningful experiences. Some of them have helped me tremendously as I attempt to make sense of the European Union. As a result of these Twitter dialogues, I was able to set-up a Skype session with one of my European contacts so that my students could compare and discuss U.S. politicians’ use of Twitter with British politicians’ use of it. Finally, because Twitter is limited to 140 characters, I began writing a blog about U.S. and European politics. Based on my experiences as a teacher, I propose that one of the best ways to maintain and strengthen the transatlantic relationship is to increase the amount of teacher exchanges. Security and economics are definitely integral to our relations, but the people involved in these conversations are usually high-ranking political officials and diplomats. This means that “ordinary” citizens on both sides of the Atlantic do not get the chance to connect and learn about each other. Having teachers go abroad, however, can exponentially increase our understanding of transatlantic history and culture. Let’s say the average teacher has 100 students per year. In my case, that means 1,200 students have passed through my classroom, learning about the transatlantic relationship—including the European Union, NATO, Cold War foreign policy—and carrying that information with them into the future. If teachers come back from exchanges and share information with their colleagues, then we could reach even more students, thereby increasing interest in the transatlantic relationship and strengthening the transatlantic community. Official diplomacy measures are vital to the transatlantic relationship. We must do more, however, to increase opportunities for public diplomacy. Doing so will strengthen our historical bond, deepen our understanding and appreciation of each other, and lead to more cooperation across a variety of sectors. Jason Knoll is a teacher at Verona Area High School in Verona, Wisconsin.
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