Mount Madonna School

Mission Statement

We are a community of learners. We support our students to become caring, self-aware and articulate critical thinkers, who are prepared to meet challenges with perseverance, creativity and integrity. We believe that a meaningful life is characterized by personal achievement and the ability to work effectively with others in service to society.

The schools mission statement above is key to everything we do. Our goals are to have our students understand themselves and the creative process. We want to cultivate a love of learning and a sense of the joy of contributing to the welfare of their community however they define it.

Mount Madonna School is a college and life preparatory school started in 1979 on a 350-acre property in the Santa Cruz Mountains overlooking the Pajaro Valley and the Monterey Bay. The beautiful natural setting of the school provides a wonderful backdrop for a balanced program that encourages learning and at the same time addresses the development of whole person.

The Values in World Thought program exists because the Mount Madonna School community has made a commitment to exploring new possibilities in learning. This commitment is based on an awareness that self-knowledge, our human connection with others, and the understanding of ourselves as responsible participants with our natural environment are essential to living a good life and insuring a sustainable future for all. The Learning Journeys that are part of the “Values” program provide an important context for direct experience of the values and mission of our school.

Values in World Thought Program

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The aims of the “Values in World Thought” program are to develop our capacities of self-awareness and to support an ongoing inquiry into the values that inform our actions and our life purpose. We do this in order strengthen our ability to engage in positive and mutually beneficial relationships with each other and with our communities. It is our intention to support the development of the citizens the world most needs now; those who can respond with creativity and care in these changing and challenging times, and those who can balance their own needs in relationship to the needs of others in the communities of which they are part.

In this program we are:About the Program

  • Creating a well developed sense of personal values through thoughtful study, self-reflection, challenging experiences and engagement with extraordinary mentors.
  • Developing the capacity and courage to engage the complex issues of life with a balanced mental attitude.
  • Appreciating the ethical and ecological implications of an interconnected, interdependent world.
  • Realizing that it is our own personal growth and transformation that are the most effective tools for the transformation of our communities.

“The purpose of education is to help us clarify to ourselves the ideas we think with; education should make us conscious of our convictions and assumptions so the meaning of our experience becomes less muddy. We don’t think ideas, …we think through ideas. Concepts are the tools we use to sort, define and comprehend the meaning of events.”

Robert Inchausti, Subversive Orthodoxy

DSC_0013In these lines from Subversive Orthodoxy Inchausti was commenting on the ideas of E.F.Schumaker, renowned author of Small is Beautiful. When I read this recently, I was delighted that someone else understood and could articulate in such succinct fashion one of the most important principles of the “Values in World Thought” class. An essential part of what we do in our program is to introduce the students to a range of concepts that relate to the underlying principles that are part in every human life. Our belief is, that as the students absorb and understand these ideas they will be better able to interpret and respond to those experiences that show up in their lives.

There are two immediate benefits that come from the effort to discuss complex ideas and integrate them into what I call a “concept vocabulary”. First, is stretching our minds to understand concepts that we did not understand before, which has the immediate value of developing our capacity to think creatively and to integrate new ideas. The second benefit is that, as we begin to sort through the complexity of ideas and situations of our lives, we discover that there are some important underlying universal principles, which when recognized can help build a framework or world view by which we can interpret and make meaning out of our experiences.

An important aspect of the program is to understand that we as human beings generally act on the basis of what has meaning for us and that our meaning is derived from what we choose to value. As Margaret Wheatley says in her book A Simpler Way, “We create ourselves by what we choose to notice”. What we value, we seek, and we tend to organize our lives around the pursuit of those values. For example, if relationship is our highest value we will order our lives in a way that places relational experience at the center of our experience; so too with other values such as accomplishments, financial security, position, power, adventure or service. What we choose to notice or where we place our attention has a lot to do with the direction and texture of our lives.

About the Program

Often when faced with the complex issues of life where several overlapping or competing values are present, we tend to react more that respond to protect the model of the world we have created. We are often unable or unwilling to take the time to sort out the complexity that we encounter and we react in one of two primary directions. One direction we may take is on the basis of limited information, or from a narrow or unexamined belief system. At the other polarity we simply avoid making any value judgment at all and deny or avoid the idea that values matter. This at its extreme can be called ‘relativism’. When we operate from these two extremes, we tend to become either very rigid in our reactions or we tend to drift along without any acknowledgement of values at all. We call the willingness to look more deeply at these sometimes confusing, conflicting or multifaceted issues, “facing the dragon of complexity”. At either extreme of the fundamentalist or the relativistic stance, our avoidance of the hard work of dealing with complexity severely limits the possibility our of engaging with productive learning, finding creative solutions or the growing of our capacities to bring positive change in the world.

In the “Values in World Thought” course, through reading, writing, dialogue, reflection, and projects involving interviews and travel, students develop their capacities to:

  • Think, speak and write critically
  • Respond creatively to new circumstances
  • Develop the ability to meet new challenges
  • To be self-reflective
  • Work cooperatively
  • Understand more deeply the ethical and ecological realities of an interconnected interdependent world

In the first year the students read and discuss the ‘Values’ curriculum that we designed in cooperation with the well-known interviewer Bill Moyers, based on his series of interviews called “A World of Ideas”. Along with the study of the ideas contained in this series of interviews the students also interview a variety of thought leaders who are making significant contributions to the world with their lives, and the students take part in a “learning journey” and engage directly with leading thinkers in this and other cultures. These activities are accompanied by projects that are meant to demonstrate to others what the students are learning. This can include writing, publishing, web sites, blogging, and video production.


In the second year of the ‘Values’ course the students engage in a deeper discussion of the processes and learning that go along with the many transitions of life. In both years the student engage leading thinkers form a variety of fields. Second year students become more involved with both the design and evaluation of their learning process. They are also encouraged to take on projects that will give them valuable practical experience in seeing how self-reflection, and collaborative relationships form the core of the learning process.

In both years the students have travel as a component of the learning process. Through travel and engagement with others they broaden their basic knowledge of the world and expand their concept of what is possible in life. Also, through visiting other cultures discover new ways in which to view themselves in relationship to the larger world. They come to understand that we transform ourselves and increase our capacities through connecting with others.