US Educators Infiltrate East Bloc Teachers and Other Groups Help Revise Texts, Share Teaching Methods, Democratize Education. REVOLUTION IN THE SCHOOLS Series: WINDOWS ON AMERICA. Part 23 of a Series
Lucia Mouat, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
AMERICAN educators are scrambling to answer a sweeping call for help from their East European colleagues.
The task is awesome: to help transform totalitarian education systems into much more democratic ones.
The American response has been swift and mixed. Enthusiastic teachers and Peace Corps volunteers have rushed abroad this summer to share their knowledge of English and teaching techniques. Other educators are helping to revise history and government texts. Many nonprofit groups and universities are aiding in similar ways under agreements with specific universities.
Leaders of some of the newly formed independent teacher unions in Eastern Europe made it clear at the recent American Federation of Teachers (AFT) meeting here that the help is greatly appreciated and that it could never amount to too much.
"We need much more than Americans are able to provide," insisted Wiktor Kulerski, former leader of Teachers Solidarity in Poland and now vice minister for education.
"Everything you send, including old textbooks, will be used as much as possible," stressed Jaroslav Kalous, chairman of the schools committee of the Civic Forum of Czechoslovakia, one of the groups that helped spur free elections there last year.
Several East Europeans attending the AFT meeting and workshops said that the experience gave them their most graphic lessons yet in democracy.
Pokorni Zoltan, a spokesman for the Democratic Teachers Union of Hungary, said he was particularly impressed that the Massachusetts Teachers Union volunteered to pick up the garbage after a group picnic on the University of Massachusetts campus. He says he admires this show of "moral capital," beyond any interest in power or money.
Only recently have both sides come to appreciate the extent of the need for education reform in Eastern Europe.
"I think the degree to which the whole educational system really needs to be revamped has even flabbergasted the East Europeans," says R. Bruce McColm, executive director of Freedom House, a group that monitors global human rights and civil liberties progress around the world. Freedom House has been working with the AFT to develop and translate new teaching materials.
The demand for change includes everything from teaching methods - such as the encouragement of student questions and critical thinking - to the content of such subjects as math and science, once regarded as free from ideology. …