Sitting around an imposing table at the Annenberg Conference Center at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, some 30 Mount Madonna School (MMS) juniors and seniors leaned forward listening intently to the soft and yet authoritative voice of former Secretary of State George P. Shultz. The students had prepared for this interview for weeks, conducting research and discussing and formulating questions, as part of their Values in World Thought social studies curriculum. This preparation and hard work was worthwhile; as evidenced by students’ engagement with this seminal political figure, and insights drawn from the advice and experiences he shared.
“One of the most beneficial aspects of engaging in dialogue is that through this process we are forced to acknowledge the complexity and nuance of an issue,” observed Values in World Thought co-teacher Shannon Kelly. “If we take the time to step away from our own assumptions and truly listen to what the other person is saying, we can absorb thoughts other than our own. When we speak with individuals such as George Shultz, I see my students’ horizons expanding right before my eyes. They start to understand how decisions are made and that there is not always a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer to life’s most difficult questions. Secretary Shultz has faced many difficult questions, so his perspective carries particular weight with the students.” Following are excerpts from a few of the students’ written reflections.
During our interview George Shultz said, “Values and ability to interact well with others is the most important part of academics. That’s why seeing people constantly on their computers scares me. You must learn how to learn; learning is fun. A good school is where you learn how to ask questions, not just answer them.” Secretary Shultz’s ideals of education seem parallel to Mount Madonna School’s foundations and the outline of our implicit curriculum. George Shultz is like a living testament that those values are legitimate.
Secretary Shultz said, “You are not looking for a man, a woman, a color of skin. You are looking for competence.” In one simple sentence he managed to capture exactly what is needed in American politics. We live in a society obsessed with image and the superficial, a culture that feeds off of what things look like on the surface and refrains from diving down into the complexity below. As a nation, we cannot allow for the roles in our government to be filled by labels. Rather, we need those offices to be filled by the people who are going to be competent and get the job done.
I asked Secretary Shultz a question relating to the shift from bipartisan to seemingly partisan relations in politics. He seemed to get sad thinking about the current state in Washington D.C. He said, “I go there and I don’t recognize the place.” He told us how the atmosphere had changed, from personal and cooperative, to detached. He attributed this to the constant state of campaigning that all politicians seem to be in. Secretary Shultz continued, “Washington is full of campaigning, which is based in division.” This quote really struck me. Campaigning is an inevitable part of a democracy, but it seems the manner in which we do it has become destructive to the unity that our society needs.
“When we talk to people who took part in history, we learn that we as human beings create that history,” commented Values in World Thought teacher Ward Mailliard. “When we hear that they did it by perseverance, thoughtfulness, integrity and hard work, we know then what we must do. It is as important for our schools to be as concerned with the content or our students’ character as it is to measure knowledge of the content of their books. Both are important and neither will serve well without the other. This is why we make the effort and take the time to prepare for and pursue interviews with those like Secretary Shultz who are contributing to their communities and the world in meaningful ways,” Mailliard continued. “It is the character we hope our students will develop regardless of the disciplines they pursue or the jobs they hold. It is part of what makes Mount Madonna School what it is. We expose the students to the experiences, and we hope, as Secretary Shultz said, that they understand that ‘values and the ability to interact with people are the most important part of academics’.”
On May 10th, MMS juniors and seniors will travel to Washington, D.C. to interview Congressional and non-governmental leaders and activists. The students’ experiences will be shared via photographs by Santa Cruz Sentinel photographer Shmuel Thaler; video by videographer and MMS alumnus, Devin Kumar (’06) and by the students themselves via writings for this blog. Founder of the program Ward Mailliard and teaching associate Shannon Kelly (’92) will lead the trip, assisted by chaperones J. Haley Campbell (’02) and Roxanne McDonald, former director of the Youth Experiencing Success (Y.E.S.) School in Santa Cruz.
To leave a comment, click on the title of the post and then you will find the comment form at the bottom!