Impressions by Tom Wolverton 2008

The Richness Within
It was an amazing week in the Netherlands for education, culture, and friendship.  I came away from my visit to Het College Vos with a sense of jealous admiration for the Dutch Science curriculum.  I was able to observe the classroom dynamic between Tanne and the Technical Assistant, Aad (see picture).  Aad was extremely knowledgeable about his discipline, helpful, and got along very well with the students.  He would slip in and out of the classroom to help set up laboratory equipment or laptops, to help struggling students, to provide Tanne with computer assistance, or to answer scientific questions.  If needed, Tanne would simply open the door to the prep room and ask for help.  I was at once very impressed by this seamless dynamic and at the same time cognizant of the lack of such a system in the U.S.  I learned from Tanne (and the Science Department at Oostvarders College) that the school(s) had 3 full-time Technical Assistants dedicated to the Science Department.  Right in front of me, I could see why the United States was falling behind in worldwide Science & Math scores–students at Het College Vos were able to have hands-on lessons every single day with the assistance of these 3 professionals.

I also gained a great sense of the Dutch history and culture.  I knew that a lot of the Netherlands was under sea level, but I never pictured that the country would be so incredibly flat.  Yet in this flatness, I could see how the Dutch engineers and scientists had taken control of the environment for trade, agriculture, and humanity.  I knew about the stereotypical windmills, yet I did not realize the role that they played in shaping the country’s identity by pumping water out of the land and into the sea for a millennium.  Again, naivety gave way to intelligent design as I learned why the Dutch used wooden shoes–to walk upon the wet, swampy waters of the polders.  Through the art of conversation and the science of the nature parks and museums, I was able to understand the role that science and engineering played in the ancient history and culture of the Dutch people.  I was also able to visit a pre-historic village re-creation at a Nature Park in Lelystad (see picture).  I was able to see connections in design to the North American native peoples, and at the same time, I learned that the Netherlands were not always under sea level.

Finally, I gained and strengthened friendships in the Netherlands.  My twin teachers, Peter and Tanne, made for excellent company in Delft, Amsterdam (see picture), and at Het College Vos.  I was able to meet Peter’s family, where I was able to learned some Dutch from his daughter, Roos, while I taught her some English.  We watched Peter’s son, Bos, play in a Saturday soccer game, where many fathers (like their American counterparts) coached and encouraged their sons from the sidelines.  I was able to have long conversations about life, science, and culture with Tanne on the various car rides he gave me throughout the country.  I stayed outside Delft at the house of Tanne and Peter’s principal, Aad.  I was able to have several conversations with Aad and his partner, Oscar, about Dutch schools and the political history of the Netherlands.  This is where I learned about the differences (and similarities) between Holland, The Netherlands, and Belgium.  In the medieval village of Muiden, I stayed with Anja and Erik.  We had long conversations about cooking, house restoration, boating, and family.  I was amazed by the agelessness of the Dutch relationships–I slipped into conversations with members of my own generation as easily as the generations above and below mine.  I am very grateful for the opportunity to meet and stay with all of these lovely people, and I hope to continue these friendships well beyond this year’s program.

Looking forward, I am excited to bring this program to my new school in the fall.  Although I know not what school (or grade) I will be teaching at, I will encourage the principal to get behind this program fully, allowing a new crop of students to experience what I experienced.  I look forward to working with everyone again and I will keep everyone up-to-date with my new school as soon as I know the location and grade.


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