I hold an adamant belief that travel can be an invaluable, life-altering experience. Families that have the means to travel often see it as a luxury, and take for granted the incredible learning that they and their children gain. I work in an alternative high school – most of my students are from families that do not have anywhere near those kinds of means. Their experiences have been, in large part, a struggle and the larger world is mostly an abstraction – including the potential wonder and hope that it can hold. Monteverde, Costa Rica epitomizes that kind of wonder and hope – blending the culture of indigenous inhabitants with that of the American Quaker settlers that arrived in the 1950’s, and balancing a model of conservation with becoming an international eco-tourism destination. The book, Walking With Wolf, tells this story in a remarkable way.
We are now in the midst of a year-long interdisciplinary class that will include Walking With Wolf, student blogs (which I hope you'll check out on the right), individual research projects, and a 10-day trip to Monteverde this Spring. The students are working hard and must fundraise their entire way there - they need your help. If you are willing to support their efforts,
checks can be made out to “Lister Academy – Costa Rica Class”, and mailed to: Robert J. Lister Academy, Attn: Bryan Mascio, 35 Sherburne Road, Portsmouth, NH 03801.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Developing Community

As I hear news reports about rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan after the wars, and rebuilding Haiti and New Orleans after natural disasters, I can't help but think about what I'm reading in Walking With Wolf about how they built the community in Monteverde, Costa Rica. To be fair, there may be a difference between building and rebuilding, but it seems to me that the central questions are the same. Most everyone seems starts with "what does the community need?", and "how do we build that?", but perhaps it should be "who is the community?", and "how do they make these decisions?"

Many times when "settlers" enter a new area the indigenous people see them as something else - "conquerors". This was not the case when Wolf and the other Quakers settled Monteverde, which speaks volumes of their vision of community. In chapter 4, a local Tico talks about the arrival of the Quakers, saying that,
"For us, it was a great thing when the Quakers came because they brought new ideas. But it was more than that..."
"It was like a new dawning and it was wonderful. Those of us who stayed became great friends with the Quakers. With them, peace came to our mountain."
The Quaker settlers were not only interested in creating a home for themselves - they saw themselves as becoming part of a community that included all those that lived there. Initially they created businesses that were centered on their needs and leadership, but they quickly incorporated the needs and voices of the larger community. This can specifically be shown in how they created a credit union to help the locals get loans, and then developed the Monteverde Cheese Factory as a co-op that eventually included far more Ticos than Quakers.

I find this all very inspiring and believe that a key part of its success is the Quaker belief in consensus. This is the practice of making decisions through unanimous agreement on the path forward, rather than being handed down from authority or even majority rule. It's an incredibly difficult and time consuming method, but has tremendous rewards. As I have been developing this Costa Rica Class, I have tended towards discussion and consensus-seeking when we have new problems and decisions to make. This has included grading criteria, structuring the class time, and fundraising. I have dictated very little, and the students have really stepped up to voice their opinions - and then own their decisions. I hope that you'll check out their blogs (links are on the right), and support their efforts.

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