Havre Daily News
Havre Public Schools Superintendent Kirk Miller had many teachers during his recent trip to Israel. Sponsored by the American-Israel Friendship League, Miller traveled as part of a delegation of eight educators who, in a five-day tour, learned about the region's history and education system.
Miller said he learned from his fellow travelers, his Israeli tour guide and the students and teachers he met there. He also learned from the landscape.
The holy sites for three religions could all fit within Pepin Park, Miller said.
"It just amazed me how people live in the confines" of such a small area, he said.
The trip gave Miller a chance to think about more extreme versions of challenges that Montana and American schools face. One problem in Israel, he said, is extreme inequality among schools.
"The system in Montana, though not perfect, does allow some equitable" distribution of resources, he said.
Miller described one school where, in the late afternoon, he saw teachers instructing 11-year-old students while sitting on the floor. At another school, a parent-teacher organization had purchased high-tech equipment far beyond what he was told could be purchased with national education dollars alone.
A third school, in particular, left an impression. The goal there was to educate Jewish and Muslim Israeli children together, Miller said.
"This community has said, 'We agree we need to live together and our kids need to be educated,'" he said.
In his first trip out of the country, besides to Canada, Miller confirmed a belief he said he has held since he entered the field of education.
"Regardless of where you live in the world, kids are kids," he said. At one grade school, students responded to him by tugging on his shirt and asking him who he was, just like they might at Sunnyside Intermediate School in Havre, he said.
He noted another similarity: Both Israel and the United States are in the process of redefining their respective education systems.
"We're dealing with sort of what Israel is," in terms of responding to new demands, he said.
Some things, however, were radically different. In Israel, students who finish high school are required to serve two to three years in the military. Service can be deferred while the person attends a university.
"They all learn service to country and to community," Miller said.
The outcome was also that young adults in Israel are often a bit older when they have decisions to make about their lives. But Miller said he couldn't get a complete picture of the role of military service in a person's education in a few days.
Miller said he also benefited from a chance to interact with educators from across America.
Traveling with an assistant superintendent from a New York City school, Miller said, he considered the possibility that Montana schools can sometimes be more diverse than urban schools. In many New York schools, he said, the students all come from the same neighborhood. In Montana, students can travel many miles to study with classmates from very different cultural and economic backgrounds.
His trip to Israel also left him with many new impressions.
Just looking around in Israel and listening to a knowledgeable tour guide was an education, Miller said.
"You couldn't help but get caught up in" the history, he said. At the site of a hill known in English as Armageddon, Miller said he learned that 25 cities had been built and destroyed on that spot.
Miller also saw something of contemporary life. He noticed many fields of sunflowers, grown mostly for oil, as well as vineyards and olive trees.
Miller's trip, May 19-24, was paid for by the American-Israel Friendship League, which was formed in 1971 to foster cultural exchange between people of the two countries. Miller said that former Gov. Marc Racicot and Secretary of State Bob Brown had traveled as guests of the organization and he suspects Brown probably recommended he be included in an education-oriented trip.