Iowa Teachers Connecting With the World

Umbrellas in China
Jan Fear, a fourth-grade teacher from Muscatine, Iowa, won a Stanley Foundation award this year to study and travel abroad. She chose to go to China, where rain was part of the itinerary. JAN FEAR

It is a summer school for teachers, with a big difference. Sixteen of them working in the schools of Muscatine, Iowa, have been awarded grants since 2005 to travel abroad to enhance their global knowledge through the Catherine Miller Explorer Awards, a project of the Iowa-based Stanley Foundation, an internationally recognized global organization that stays close to its Midwestern roots.

Some of the teachers from kindergarten to 12th grade who receive the awards have never traveled abroad or had little hope of making extensive study tours on a teacher’s salary. The program was designed, the Stanley Foundation says, to create globally minded teachers with a greater ability to teach diverse students. It can serve as a model for other communities with populations that are increasingly multicultural.

This year, a fourth-grade teacher, Jan Fear, embarked on a punishing 21-day trip around China. “On a surface level, I picked up how to use chopsticks and play mah-jongg,” she wrote in the foundation’s  journal Courier. “On a deeper level, I learned how another culture lives, works and plays; how the Chinese got to where they are and where they are going.”

Winners of the awards over the years — among them linguists and science or geography teachers at high-school level — have opted for diverse destinations, including Australia, Tanzania, Turkey, Iceland, Peru and the Galápagos Islands of Ecuador.

Joshua Hanna, a high-school biology teacher, went to the Galápagos in 2009. Asked by the Courier to explain why he applied for an award, Hanna said: “I do a lot of state conferences and national conferences, and I had been fortunate to be exposed to a lot of material regarding evolution and education. It’s not really been an issue in our own state to have people bring up this idea of ‘does evolution belong in the curriculum or not,’ but at the national level it gets a lot of attention. So when I get asked at the age of 27 if I could go anywhere in the world, where would I want to go, it was kind of a no-brainer. It was the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin. It was the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species.’ It was the 50th anniversary of the Darwin Research Center being established in the Galápagos Islands, and here I was about to be the same age Darwin was when he was on the islands. So my entry essay kind of wrote itself.”

Joshua Hanna
Joshua Hanna, a previous recipient of the Stanley Foundation's Explorer Award.

Catherine Miller, for whom and in whose spirit the Explorer Awards were named, was a teacher of French and Spanish in Muscatine for 34 years. She saw the importance of bringing an understanding of foreign cultures to her students at Muscatine High School and Muscatine Community College, and she traveled widely to carry back the experiences and perspectives of foreign cultures. She also raised money for Unicef. When Miller died in 2008 at the age of 99, the awards were well established.

The Stanley Explorer Awards project was created under the presidency of Richard H. Stanley, who inherited the foundation from his parents, C. Maxwell and Elizabeth M. Stanley, who started the foundation in 1956. Max Stanley, who died in 1984, was an engineer and businessman who also spoke and wrote in a campaign for global citizenship. His wife was active in educational issues. Project Enrichment, the initial Stanley community education program, began in the Muscatine schools in 1971.

Today the Stanley Foundation, under its president Keith Porter — with Richard Stanley, also an engineer, remaining chairman of the board — plays a prominent role on strategic international issues such as nuclear security, human protection and the evolving global system, working with partners at the United Nations, Washington think tanks and research organizations worldwide. But Richard Stanley says that there has never been a serious thought of leaving its Iowa base or reducing its numerous local activities in education and other public projects.

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Barbara Crossette

Barbara Crossette

Barbara Crossette is the senior consulting editor and writer for PassBlue and the United Nations correspondent for The Nation. She is also a board member of the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She is a contribtor to the Oxford Handbook on the United Nations.

Previously, Crossette was the UN bureau chief for The New York Times from 1994 to 2001 and before that its chief correspondent in Southeast Asia and South Asia. She is the author of "So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas," "The Great Hill Stations of Asia" and a Foreign Policy Association study, "India Changes Course," in the Foreign Policy Association's "Great Decisions 2015."

Crossette won the George Polk award for her coverage in India of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and the 2010 Shorenstein Prize for her writing on Asia.

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