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.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Walking With Wolf - Chapter 3

Making connections is what I love about teaching, what I do in everyday life, and why I decided to use Walking With Wolf for this class. When I read about history, I think about the world today. When I read about a foreign culture, I think about personal relationships. These things aren't that far apart, and that was what I was thinking about while reading this chapter.

More of the modern history of Costa Rica is revealed in this chapter, explaining how it developed following it's revolution in 1948. As a country renews itself, there are a lot of choices to make and each of them could hugely alter the future trajectory of its people (this is just as true during transitional times for individuals). Costa Rica is located in a part of the world that is notoriously unstable - yet it has been quite stable for more than a half-century. Is that because of the decision to have no military? When my wife and I were traveling there, tour guides said that the money which would have gone towards an army was spent on hospitals and schools - and now virtually every town, no matter how small, has adequate services. This has to impact the stability of a country. The lack of a military is certainly a major factor in why Wolf and the other American Quakers decided to go there - how many others chose to go or stay there because of that, and helped make the country what it is today?

On page 27, Wolf is recounting the little he knew about Costa Rica before he went there. A main feature is that the revolutionary hero Pepe Figueres "...invited people from developed countries to come and invest in Costa Rica." On the face of it, this seems like a natural thing to do during a time of transition - to bring in people that can help - but I believe that this kind of openness and tolerance was a courageous act. This act resisted two major tendencies that people follow, especially during times of difficulty and uncertainty: people tend to want to project power and confidence, and people tend to shift into an "us" and "them" mentality. It is rare to see a modern leader have the courage to admit that they need the help of outsiders. It is far more common for a leader to vilify outsiders or "them" so that people will come together and bond over a common fear. This kind of mentality can be seen throughout the world, or even here at home - but Costa Rica took a different path and opened themselves up. Monteverde is still largely influenced by the Americans that settled there and their children, as well as people from all over the world that come to appreciate what has been created.

This kind of openness made for a perfect home for Wolf and the rest of the Quakers. I was particularly moved by the group dynamics during the difficulty of finding the best location to settle. It had taken a long time and each new site turned out to have a major flaw, so the group considered splitting up to cover more ground. On page 31 we learn that they decided to stay together because, "...the more financially able members of the group remained committed to helping the younger members. Of equal importance was the group's belief that staying together for worship and schooling was essential to their future as a community." This value of the community and putting a greater good before your personal comfort, seems so rare now but it is precisely what we try to instill at our school. In a society that can appear so "me" centered, it can feel like an impossible task to teach people to be kind and giving - but I've already seen it from the students at our school and in this class. It was such a vital quality for Wolf and his community, and I think it will be of equal importance for us to be successful.

One of the things I love the most about Kay Chornook's writing style is how she weaves her story with that of the main character, Wolf Guindon, and that of the broader topic - be it the country of Costa Rica or the development of Quakerism. This is a writing technique that I remember first coming across in another one of my favorite books - Into The Wild, by Jon Krakauer. On its surface, blending all of this information together could seem confusing, and I suspect that some readers find it such, but I love how it shines a bright light on the connections that exist all around us. Kay and Wolf are of different generations from different countries and different family traditions, but their stories are connected - and not just because of their time spent together or their love of Costa Rica. Their stories are connected in the spirit of their lives and in the message that they can tell us - and through this book, it's now connected to our story. When we travel to Costa Rica this spring, we will then be connected to all of that broader history that both shaped their decisions and was shaped by their actions.

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