Academics / Community

The adventures of Mr. Neumann

Mr. Karl Neumann, US History and East Asian Studies teacher, has discovered that he does not have to go to the moon to explore. Gabrielle DeWeck ’17 remarks, “It is known that the teachers at Dana Hall are passionate about what they teach, but Mr. Neumann takes that to an unparalleled level. His excitement and enthusiasm about different subject matter make you excited to learn.”

Mr. Neumann grew up in rural west central Maryland and went to the Francis Scott Key High School, named after “the guy who wrote the Star Spangled banner.” Mr. Neumann is the son of German immigrants who migrated to America in the 1960s. Maryland was the place where German immigrants had migrated to one hundred years before, but the German culture had died down. Mr. Neumann describes his childhood as living between two places, struggling with the question of “Am I American or Am I German?”

He is thankful for his working-class parents who helped him through college for a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Maryland at College Park in 1992. Mr. Neumann, majored in history because of its vital role for all types of career paths: “History is just as important for an engineer, to ask questions as to why things are the way they are.”

He then worked in the National Holocaust Memorial Museum from 1993 to 1995. There, he was teaching on a daily basis to adults; he was “doing history,” communicating the past with the public, many of whom were concentration camp survivors or liberators. This experience inspired him to go back to school for a degree in Secondary Education in 1997.

 

Mr. Neumann’s first teaching job was in Southern Maryland, “really down South.” The school had an exchange with a school in Tokyo. Teachers from America would teach for a year at schools in Tokyo and vice versa. The typical duration of the exchange is one year, but Mr. Neumann taught at Koshigaya for three years as an Assistant English Teacher at public schools. He says the best part was the learning experience, being an “everyday person [in Japan] instead of a tourist.”

One way Mr. Neumann became immersed in the Japanese school culture was by eating the school lunches. The meals were cooked away from campus and delivered by truck, and the students served the food. Even if the lunch was pork liver, either you “eat it or you don’t eat.” Bringing a lunch from home, Mr. Neumann explains, “was too much individualism in a place that was all about the group.” In Japan, “people work together. There is a consensus culture.” To show respect as a guest in the country, Mr. Neumann picked up the mannerisms and customs in Japan so perfectly that he was called “Japanese” by his colleagues.

In Japan, sea-food is more traditional than in western Maryland where he grew up. Initially, Mr. Neumann was far less adventurous with food, preferring burgers to sushi. Due to the culture, being offered something to drink when visiting a place for the same time is ceremonial. Accepting a drink is crucial in establishing a relationship; he now drinks coffee because of his stay in Japan, remembering thinking, “there’s no sugar in it, but I like it.” The generosity of the people fascinated him so much so that he made a point to explore Japan while he was an Assistant English teacher, and he still travels to Japan many summers, a trip he says is like “coming home.”

Geography, Mr. Neumann’s “second love,” also came from living in Japan. He explains passionately  that once someone studies the history of the environment, they know the history to everything. In Japan, he says, “there is so much to learn as long as you pay attention to where you are.” On his return trips he would save the train fare and would walk to achieve a better understanding of his environment. To keep track of his adventures, he took photos and emailed them to his family and friends, in a “blog before blogs.”

Due to his experiences in Japan, Mr. Neumann is able to find “ties that bind America with Asia.” One way he does this is by saving train fare in America as he did in Japan by walking between train stations, as far as South Station to Harvard Square. He also learns about the Asian history of local landmarks. For example, he explains that the Perkins School for the Blind was actually funded through money made from trade with China. He has since launched a project to uncover all the places related to Asian American history in New England because many of them have now disappeared. The point of the project is to “take a standard view and turn things on their head.” For example, instead of the one-sided story of Paul Revere and the Boston, Mr. Neumann seeks to find the history of the slave trade in Boston, because it “would enrich the  story.”

Mr Neumann first fell in love with history because “you have to do something with it.” By finding forgotten landmarks around Boston, he hopes to interpret the history so that the “public can understand,” returning to the same type of work he did in the National Holocaust Museum. His discoveries also become lessons for his classes in US History and East Asian Studies, which he calls “the two hats that I wear on my head,” to show that these two parts of the world have always been intertwined.

Mr. Neumann also hopes to foster an interconnectedness between the world and Dana Hall students. He says that he would not “know what it would mean if [he] were not interacting with young people.” His goal as a teacher is to ensure that when students leave Dana Hall, they will be able to discern when people are telling them the truth.