“It was just piles of rocks, no electricity, no power, no water — Warsaw was nothing but rubble.”
That’s how Jerry Teemanson began his lecture on modern Poland recently at the Rim Country Foreign Policy Forum.
The group’s monthly meeting featured Teemanson at its meeting at the Senior Center on Main Street.
The lively Mr. Teemanson taught English in Poland for 15 years between 1992 and 2007. Before he left that country, he saw Poland transformed from a communist dictatorship to a modern nation with free elections, free speech and free markets.
On a personal level, Teemanson involved himself in education. He described the differences between Poland and the United States in the student’s sense of application.
“In Poland every kid knows that if they do not get a good education, it will be back on Uncle Pytor’s farm for the rest of their life. None of them want to take care of what cows leave behind for the next 50 years,” he said, miming a melancholy someone using a shovel.
He says that in Poland the students show up neatly dressed and well prepared. Students stand to answer a direct question in the classroom and that is the only time that they speak. Discipline was never an issue in Poland. Homework assignments were always done and done well. The Polish school day begins at 7:30 a.m. and lasts until 4:30 p.m.
Self-esteem is never mentioned in Polish education. Teemanson pointed out that the test results comparing the two countries indicate that the Polish methods work better than the somewhat looser methods in America.
Teemanson established a bilingual elementary school in Poland before he returned to the U.S. and also built a foundation to support the school. The school remains in operation to this day.
Among the fascinating tidbits of modern history attendees picked up was the Polish communist tradition of the biala koperta, the white envelope. In communist Poland, wages were unbearably low and goods distressingly scarce. If you wanted to be allowed to buy say an Easter ham, which would be in short supply, you gave the government functionary in the shop a biala koperta, a white envelope with some cash in it. If the envelope was plump enough, you could buy the ham. It is hard to imagine an entire economy operating in this cumbersome and corrupt fashion.
According to Teemanson, within three years of the defeat of communism shops operated in the way we are accustomed, with an abundance of goods, marked prices and no bribes. In the last quarter of this year, newly prosperous Poland grew at almost twice the rate of the troubled American economy.
The longtime resident of Poland illuminated different ways different nationalities look at the same thing. He used advertising as an example. He said in Poland, people assume if you have high quality items for sale, everyone will know it. Poles assume only those with inferior goods would go to the bother of advertising at all.
Teemanson also told the somber story of a trip he made to the home of a Jewish cobbler. The home was falling down; grass grew in the living room and mushrooms in the corners. He took away as a souvenir a set of cobblers lasts, the forms on which a shoe would be made. He told of the eerie feeling he had when he touched the lasts. No other human had touched the item since its true owner, the Jewish cobbler, had been arrested and taken away to be murdered in the first year of World War II.
Teemanson is an animated man and an entertaining storyteller. He had his attentive audience in thrall for his hour in the spotlight. Attendees received a lot of information in a short time and the information was packed, most of the time, with cheery illumination.
Lt. Colonel (Rtd.) Mike Clark will be the next presenter for the Rim Country Foreign Policy Forum at noon, Wednesday, Sept. 26. Colonel Clark will recall his experiences as an aviation trainer to the Honduran and Guatemalan armies during the first, dictatorial, reign of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua after the triumph of the Sandinista revolution.