Educating Future Generations of Atlanticists: A Response to Tobias Bunde

I recently came across an excellent (and important) essay by Tobias Bunde titled, “Will There Be Another Generation of Atlanticists?”  In it, Bunde points out the concern felt by many that the under-40 generation do not seem to appreciate the transatlantic relationship as much as their parents’ or grandparents’ generations.  He also proposes that leaders on both sides of the Atlantic need to do more to point to the future of the transatlantic relationship and not focus as much on the past.  While politicians, economists, and other government officials are surely important for the transatlantic renaissance, we must ask ourselves how we are going to ensure future generations see the benefits and understand the special relationship.  I propose that one of the most important ways to accomplish this is through education.

At one point, Bunde argues that “just telling ourselves again and again about our glorious common history will not suffice to build the ground for a strong transatlantic partnership.”  He is correct in that if we want to move forward with Atlantic community, we cannot continually look to the past and all of its successes.  The past is important, however, if we are going to educate a future generation of Atlanticists.  It is crucial that the under-40, or for that matter the under-20 generation, understand where we came from to better understand where we might possibly go.  In this regard, I am reminded of what John Lewis Gaddis wrote in the preface to his book, The Cold War: A New History.  He said that the book was “meant chiefly… for a new generation of readers for whom the Cold War was never ‘current events.'”  If we want our youth to understand why the transatlantic relationship matters, we must first start with educating them about its past.  For many years, I taught three courses on European history- AP European History (1400-Present); Europe in the Era of Two World Wars; and The Cold War and the Collapse of Communism (in which I assigned Gaddis’ book).  If high schools offered courses like these, we would build a solid foundation for future Atlanticists.

As Bunde mentioned, however, the past alone will not suffice.  We must therefore take it upon ourselves to educate students about the present-day transatlantic community.  (Since I teach in the US, I am going to limit my discussion here to what we can do to teach about Europe and NATO.)  Since NATO is a cornerstone of the transatlantic alliance, teachers should educate their students about the basics and current missions.  The NATO website is fairly easy to navigate and even has resources called LibGuides, “web-based research guides that contain publicly available information.”  I am a bit surprised, however, that I could not find any sort of resources specifically geared towards teachers.

In addition to NATO, students in the US should learn about the EU.  The Delegation of the EU to the US has great resources for teachers.  Personally, I have used the “EU Guide for Americans” and “Europe in 12 Lessons” with my students.  If schools are within thirty miles of Washington, DC, teachers could have one of the diplomats who work at the Delegation visit their classroom.  I was fortunate enough to have Dr. Christian Burgsmüller, Counselor Head of the Energy, Transport and Environment Section, visit my class when he was in Madison for a different event.  Finally, high school students can learn about the EU and Euro by participating in the Euro Challenge.

Teachers should also encourage students to attend seminars and conferences about the transatlantic community and global issues.  Just recently, students and young professionals had the opportunity to attend the Danish Atlantic Youth Seminar.  The goal of the seminar was to “update the post-Cold War generation on current security challenges facing the Alliance and the rest of the world.”  We need seminars like that here in the US.  Additionally, students should participate in Model UN or Model EU (although the latter are usually for post-secondary students).  Being able to delve deeply into one country’s foreign policy and learn how it approaches a variety of issues, can lead to a better understanding of not only other states, but also other international organizations.

Since teachers can play a pivotal role in maintaining and strengthening the transatlantic relationship, institutions and agencies, think tanks, and embassies involved in US-European relations should give teachers an opportunity to learn about them.  Before I read Bunde’s essay, I wrote a piece titled, “Teachers and the Transatlantic Relationship,” for the German Marshall Fund Blog Competition, arguing that teachers (both from the US and Europe) should travel across the Atlantic to learn more about our friends on the “other side of the pond.”  I was extremely fortunate to have been part of a EU study trip to Brussels one summer, but at only five days, it was not long enough for me to create a lesson or unit from my experiences.  I suggest that trips should be three to four weeks in length, with teachers creating a lesson plan at the end of each week based on their experiences.  Let’s say a group of twenty-five teachers goes to Brussels for three weeks.  At the end of that trip, those teachers would have created a combined total of seventy-five lesson plans on various aspects of Europe.  Those teachers will go back and teach many, many students each year about the transatlantic community, thereby educating a future generation of Atlanticists.

I agree with Bunde and others over their concerns regarding the future of the transatlantic relationship.  I also agree with Hillary Clinton when she wrote in her book, Hard Choices, that “For America, our alliance with Europe is worth more than gold.”  We just need to convince our youth why it is so valuable.  Finally, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said recently that we need to “deepen our personal and cultural links.”  We can accomplish this by educating our students about the transatlantic relationship and by increasing the amount of teacher exchanges.

Thanks for reading.

Follow up note, July 15, 2014: I neglected to mention that I learned about Tobias Bunde’s essay via a tweet from Joerg Wolf, editor-in-chief of Atlantic Community.

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