Local students share ‘Great Ideas’ | AspenTimes.com

Local students share ‘Great Ideas’

Charles Agar

Mark Fox/The Aspen Times

Ghandi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Last week, 24 teens from five area schools got a head start on doing just that.Students from high schools in Aspen, Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood, as well as the private Colorado Rocky Mountain School, met at the Aspen Institute for the fifth annual High School Great Ideas Seminar.Students were chosen to participate in the Institute-sponsored event not for their high grades, but for their leadership skills. They then gave up their first week of school to attend four days of roundtable discussions based on readings from a list of classics, from Ghandi to Plato, and Machiavelli to Ursula K. Le Guin.The seminar is modeled after the Aspen Institute’s Executive Seminars, which Walter Paepcke and a team of scholars designed to use classical literature as a basis for a free flow of ideas.”At first it was awkward,” said 16-year-old CRMS student Hunter Quevedo. “Nobody knew each other. But discussions got better. People raised their hands and spoke up. It didn’t get boring.”Lee Bycel, a rabbi and professor of religion from Los Angeles, moderated the seminar. Bycel works with nonprofit aid organizations in developing countries and has been a moderator at the institute for more than 10 years.

“I love doing this,” Bycel said. “We have two ears and one mouth for a reason, but we don’t listen to each other anymore. We have computers and technology but no dialogue.”The answer, Bycel said, is “reasonable discourse” among people of different beliefs and backgrounds. He said high school students are “smart, idealistic, realistic and in touch with their feelings.””We have a lot to learn from them,” Bycel added.Kids read the classics, Bycel said, to see that people have been grappling with the same ideas for centuries.Seminar participants adhere to the Socratic method, which gives everyone in the group a chance to speak. And Bycel challenges students with questions: What is a just society? What is real happiness? How does society work? How do you make a difference? What is equality? What is justice?In one session, students debated Martin Luther King Jr.’s letter from a Birmingham jail, in which he famously wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice anywhere.”

Students answered with debate about mob justice, how a united minority can sway the fractured majority and the dangers of conformity.”Being in this group, we are all helping each other have self-confidence and be a change for good,” said Katie Walker. The seminar is a chance for kids who would otherwise see one another only from across an athletic field to meet in a noncompetitive environment as peers.Basalt High junior Vanessa Way expected to find “stuffy people talking about Aristotle.” But she was surprised at how much fun the experience was.Lauren Lacy, a 17-year-old Aspen High student, said “I realized how similar our opinions are despite our differences.” She said everyone in the group learned to respect one another’s opinions: “I met these people four days ago, and now we’re really good friends.”William Grandbois, a 16-year-old from Carbondale, added that young people are “losing the art of language.” He said it was “refreshing” to be among peers who value ideas and ways of expressing themselves.

Quevedo said he learned that “our world is in a lot of trouble.” He worries about the fact that the U.S. represents just 4 percent of the world’s population but uses 25 percent of world resources.Glenwood Springs High junior Cody Spyker said that the seminar gave her a “greater sense of hope.” She was surprised at the great ideas and deep concepts the group shared over the four days.Bycel called the seminar a success.”It is great that we can come together and discuss important issues in a civilized way.”Charles Agar’s e-mail address is cagar@aspentimes.com