May 19, 2005: Headlines: COS - Afghanistan: Secondary Education: Awards: Chatham Courier: In 1968, Jonathan Greenburg joined the Peace Corps, and was stationed in Darweshan, Afghanistan. He taught English to Afghan children

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Afghanistan: Peace Corps Afghanistan: The Peace Corps In Afghanistan: May 19, 2005: Headlines: COS - Afghanistan: Secondary Education: Awards: Chatham Courier: In 1968, Jonathan Greenburg joined the Peace Corps, and was stationed in Darweshan, Afghanistan. He taught English to Afghan children

By Admin1 (admin) ( - on Wednesday, May 25, 2005 - 2:43 pm: Edit Post

In 1968, Jonathan Greenburg joined the Peace Corps, and was stationed in Darweshan, Afghanistan. He taught English to Afghan children

In 1968, Jonathan  Greenburg joined the Peace Corps, and was stationed in Darweshan, Afghanistan. He taught English to Afghan children

In 1968, Jonathan Greenburg joined the Peace Corps, and was stationed in Darweshan, Afghanistan. He taught English to Afghan children

History teacher Greenburg urges his students to engage

MAX PIZARRO 05/19/2005

THE CHATHAMS – The life and career of Jonathan Greenburg of North Caldwell reads like some epic scrawl by Bob Dylan in a publication by New Directions with an introduction mixing equal parts Jack Kerouac and Emma Goldman.

Teaching Mexicans in a Colorado labor camp, going down the Amazon in a dugout, driving the streets of Belfast, hitch-hiking across Canada, digging ditches in a Kibbutz in Israel, running for cover in India or busing students from Chatham to a mosque in Paterson, looking for a way, in his words, “to engage people – not just tolerate them,” Greenburg will retire from Chatham High School at the end of this year.

“He’s done extensive travel and lived overseas, broadening his worldview,” said Greg Meissner, principal of Chatham High School. “That has had a direct effect on any class that he teaches. It certainly provides an enriched environment for students to learn, and he is also a teacher who relates extremely well to students.”

The Morris County 2001 Teacher of the Year and world traveler has taught Advanced Placement American History, international relations, holocaust and genocide studies, Middle Eastern Studies, and overseen the school’s model United Nations and Congress programs.

“Fight the good fight, it’s all you can do,” Greenburg said last week when asked to make an impromptu farewell speech. “Choose your battles.”

He broke off, unable to bear the agony of cliché.

“They’re all platitudes,” he complained. “Listen. I remember Sargent Shriver, the man Kennedy picked to run the Peace Corps, told us, ‘Break your mirrors.’ I thought that was good advice. Basically, it means stop looking at yourself. Look at the world – and just keep being a lifelong learner.”

A lifelong learner.

To the people who have been with him in the classroom, Greenburg embodies that advice in his dynamism and passion for knowledge.

“Jonathan Greenburg is one of the finest high school teachers I’ve ever worked with or observed,” said James O’Neill, superintendent of the School District of the Chathams. “A lot of kids will tell you he’s the most influential teacher in their high school careers.”

One of those is Anne Merwin, a 2000 graduate in history and political science from Rice University and a 1996 graduate of Chatham High School.

“He was both engaging and engaged,” Merwin said of Greenburg. “You wanted to listen to him not only because what he had to say was interesting and insightful, but because he so obviously cared about what he was teaching.

“He taught history in a way that made you see the bigger significance, rather than just as a series of dates and occurrences,” Merwin added. “It was the first time I realized that there are a multitude of ways to look at history, and that any single event can be seen and explained in a variety of lights. It was also the first time I remember thinking that something the Puritans did in 1730 could and did affect the world we live in today.”

O’Neill said Greenburg was expert in teaching his students how to write analytically. “And he has a great knack for making kids interested in learning more than what they might need for the next paper or the next test,” O’Neill added.

Lisa Visconti said her daughter Jennifer was never enamored of history.

“Then she had Jonathan Greenburg as a teacher,” she said. “Every class was exciting. He is so laid back personally, but he has this passion for the subject that inspires his students to have debate and discussion. He’s just a phenomenal teacher.”

“He’s going to very missed, on a personal and on a professional level,” said Meissner.

Back At the Beginning

When he married Susan, an English teacher from Livingston, Greenburg moved up to New Jersey from Maryland and started teaching at Chatham High School in 1988, the year of the merger. But he had started in the profession years earlier, teaching English in a migrant labor camp in Colorado in 1966.

Greenburg’s reverence for education came from his father, the late Rabbi William Greenburg of Allentown, Pa., where the teacher was raised. The word “rabbi” actually means “my teacher.”

The son was shaped by the 1960s. He obtained conscientious objector status when his number came up for Vietnam. He lived in a Kibbutz in Galilee, Israel, a year before the Six Day War.

He served his country, but not in Vietnam.

In 1968, Greenburg joined the Peace Corps, and was stationed in Darweshan, Afghanistan. He taught English to Afghan children.

No plumbing.

No electricity.

The school stood in the desert, three hours from the nearest city, and from the closest American community, where the business people “had no contact with the people other than giving orders.”

“I didn’t think of what I was doing there in the political sense,” Greenburg said. “I was not looking at the big picture. I was just imbued with the Kennedy spirit – I was young and idealistic and trying to do something positive. Who was I kidding? I was an agent for American imperialism.”

But the humility of the people, their generosity and “Middle Eastern hospitality” prevailed. They played basketball together, students and teacher - the students playing barefoot. They farmed and learned.

“Most of the kids went on to the university in Kabul to study agronomy,” said Greenburg. “I remember this one boy, he couldn’t distinguish between ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ after one year of studying English.”

But goodbye came nonetheless, and as hard as it was to go to Afghanistan in the first place, it was harder to leave. The two-year assignment served as the basis for Greenburg’s continuing passion for the Middle East and for world cultures.

From the 1960s to 2001, “this stuff was dormant in me,” he said of his background in Afghanistan.

“It suddenly came to the forefront after 9/11,” he said.

As part of the curriculum for his Middle Eastern Studies course, he and the students each year went to an Islamic Mosque in Paterson not only to observe – but also to take part in the rituals of that religion.

“You’re going to come out of the Middle Eastern Studies class knowing 99 percent more than the rest of the community knows about Islam,” the teacher told his students.

Even if Kennedy’s motives amounted to little more than paving the way for McDonald’s and IBM, Greenburg credits the President, and the era of the 1960s, with reinforcing the lessons of social obligation that he got from his father.

“I think our culture has become atomized,” he said. “Kennedy said, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.’ Now it’s ‘what your country owes you,’ and you see the effects of this across the country.

“You see it in the drop of membership in civic organizations,” he said. “I think in the era of the 1960s there was a sense of unity that came from standing up to crisis. It was the basis for my work as a teacher. But I start feeling like a dinosaur.”

As he considers America’s role in the world today, the history teacher said, “I want to see this country respected out of admiration, not out of fear. Sadly, that’s not being transmitted at all.”

As a Jew, he said, “I’m appalled by the settler movement (in Israel).”

He said he is appalled wherever he sees religious fundamentalism and nationalism crowding out the moderates.

“Nationalism is the most dangerous ideology that’s ever existed,” the teacher said.

“History is very often overlooked, or used in a way that produces false analogies and false parallels,” he added. “One thing we have to be in touch with is the role of myth in society. People possess stories, but stories also possess people. We have a powerful myth in this country, for example, described in the book, ‘Captain America and the Great Crusade,’ that our constitutional system cannot right society’s wrongs, so someone has to step up and right them.”

Pursuing Study

In provoking them to analyze society’s myths, Greenburg tells his students to always think critically, and to always be educating themselves.

“I’m an advocate of lifelong learning,” Greenburg said. “We’re right next to New York, I tell the kids it’s incumbent on them to get in there and take advantage of the cultural offerings of the city.”

In his retirement, he said he looks forward to pursuing his own studies. “I’d like to start reading Shakespeare, which I’ve never done,” said Greenburg.

He hopes to continue traveling, reaching out to people around the globe.

“Of course, the people always give you more, and teach you more than you give or teach to them,” he said.

Like the time in Ireland when he and his wife were staying in a little bed and breakfast and he saw a fiddle and a guitar in the living room. He asked the proprietress about the instruments and she said they belonged to her daughters (husband.

“Would you like me to have them play for you?” she asked.

“I remember that woman waking those kids up and them coming out in their robes in a half sleep and playing – the most beautiful, humble music,” said Greenburg. “What a farewell.”

Or the time he learned of the sacred rituals of mystics in Brazil. Or felt the hospitality of the people at a Berber wedding.

Or when a Catholic boy in Belfast told him he had been to Great Adventure in New Jersey, but had never been to the Protestant side of town.

Or learned about the insects on the Amazon from the guide, an alligator hunter.

As for Chatham, as he leaves, “Do I deserve the teacher of the year award and the other accolades,” Greenburg asked. “What about the teacher in Appalachia or in an inner city working against the odds all the time? I can’t tell you the support I’ve gotten from the community and the families here.”

When this story was posted in May 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

Peace Corps Online The Independent News Forum serving Returned Peace Corps Volunteers
The Peace Corps Library Date: March 27 2005 No: 536 The Peace Corps Library
Peace Corps Online is proud to announce that the Peace Corps Library is now available online. With over 30,000 index entries in 500 categories, this is the largest collection of Peace Corps related stories in the world. From Acting to Zucchini, you can find hundreds of stories about what RPCVs with your same interests or from your Country of Service are doing today. If you have a web site, support the "Peace Corps Library" and link to it today.

Top Stories and Breaking News PCOL Magazine Peace Corps Library RPCV Directory Sign Up

May 7, 2005: This Week's Top Stories Date: May 7 2005 No: 583 May 7, 2005: This Week's Top Stories
"Peace Corps Online" on recess until May 21 7 May
Carol Bellamy taking the reins at World Learning 7 May
Gopal Khanna appointed White House CFO 7 May
Clare Bastable named Conservationist of the Year 7 May
Director Gaddi Vasquez visits PCVs in Bulgaria 5 May
Abe Pena sets up scholarship fund 5 May
Peace Corps closes recruiting sites 4 May
Hill pessimistic over Korean nuclear program 4 May
Leslie Hawke says PC should split into two organizations 4 May
Peace Corps helps students find themselves 3 May
Kevin Griffith's Tsunami Assistance Project collects 50k 3 May
Tim Wright studied Quechua at UCLA 2 May
Doyle not worried about competition 2 May
Dodd discusses President's Social Security plan 1 May
Randy Mager works in Blue Moon Safaris 1 May
PCVs safe in Togo after disputed elections 30 Apr
Michael Sells teaches Islamic History and Literature 28 Apr

May 7, 2005:  Special Events Date: May 7 2005 No: 582 May 7, 2005: Special Events
"Iowa in Ghana" on exhibit in Waterloo through June 30
"American Taboo" author Phil Weiss in Maryland on June 18
Leland Foerster opens photo exhibition at Cal State
RPCV Writers scholarship in Baltimore - deadline June 1
Gary Edwards' music performed in Idaho on May 24
RPCVs: Post your stories or press releases here for inclusion next week.

Friends of the Peace Corps 170,000  strong Date: April 2 2005 No: 543 Friends of the Peace Corps 170,000 strong
170,000 is a very special number for the RPCV community - it's the number of Volunteers who have served in the Peace Corps since 1961. It's also a number that is very special to us because March is the first month since our founding in January, 2001 that our readership has exceeded 170,000. And while we know that not everyone who comes to this site is an RPCV, they are all "Friends of the Peace Corps." Thanks everybody for making PCOL your source of news for the Returned Volunteer community.

Read the stories and leave your comments.

Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

Story Source: Chatham Courier

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Afghanistan; Secondary Education; Awards



Add a Message

This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.