Education then & now |

Education then & now

Roger Marolt

“Hi sweetie,” I say to my 11 year-old daughter hunched over her homework on the dining room table. “What’re you working on?” “I’m supposed to write a newspaper-style story about an important project we’re doing in school this year. Do you want to hear what I have so far?” My interest is stirred. I try to imagine what the essay could be about. My impression is that the Aspen schools are slowly and disappointingly changing from the time I attended decades ago.In middle school I would have had all kinds of cool things to write about. Our schools were so unique that later, in college, friends from other places couldn’t believe the things I told about them. My early education was truly remarkable.I went to the Outward Bound camp in Marble to discover things about teamwork and self-confidence. We went to Capitol Reef National Monument to study geology. I learned about the desert ecosystems during a week-long excursion hiking through the Escalante Canyon in southern Utah. I discovered survival skills by spending three nights in a snow cave up in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area. We visited a studio where they were experimentally recording classical music with lasers on plastic discs … in 1975! We hiked and biked and rafted and skied all over the place. And, this was just in middle school! A great many things we learned by inviting experts from the community to join us. We sang with John Denver. We learned about computers from Nick DeWolf. You can’t imagine the incredible things people around here have done!In spite of all this “fooling around,” we scored high on the SATs and excelled at the best colleges and universities in the country. Many of us got accepted by our first choices primarily because the admissions people were impressed with the innovative things we were doing in our small school system. Now, it seems like there is too much emphasis on test scores and college placement. Other things are being squeezed out. Unquantifiable goals are not worth pursuing, even if they would eventually help our children become happier, healthier and more productive adults. There are hints that a new breed of resumé intellectuals are hell-bent on getting rid of all the things I valued most about my Aspen education and replacing them with IB programs, SAT prep courses and writing classes focused on formulating application essays instead of getting lost in frivolous poetry. Self-perpetuated cerebral snobbery is fashionable and, coincidentally or not, we are amid a very uninspiring period for education. “Sure, honey,” I say, bracing myself, mustering enthusiasm to hear a child’s coached-up interest for the school board’s plan to boost CSAP scores into the upper 2 percent of the state. “Let’s hear it.””Okay, here goes: “A sixth-grade class in Mexico? This may sound strange but this isn’t the trip most people take with beaches and sand castles; they will be doing service work in a small town near Chihuahua, Mexico. Not only will they do work, but also learn about a different culture and have a great time. They will see a new side of Mexico that most people don’t see in a lifetime. “Peter Westcott, their teacher, has been on two other trips like this with other classes. Peter thinks that kids, especially from Aspen, need this experience, because they don’t see life like that here. Peter says, ‘I love this trip because I have been on it two other times and I know how meaningful it is to the community down there and to my students.’ “The kids in Peter’s class will be accompanied by a class from the Waldorf School and some adults. They will be gone for eight days, although two days will be spent driving. They will take a travel bus to the border of Mexico where they will walk across to another bus a lot like the other. Parents will be taking cars down, full of supplies for the community and the things the class will need. “While down there, what service work they do will depend on what town they go to. One town needs a new roof for a school and other towns need all different things. The area where they are going has been decided and the town will be decided shortly. “While the towns are very poor, the students will see families with bikes and cars. Peter says that these people usually have relatives working in the U.S. Although some families are like this, most can’t even afford to send their children to school on the bus. So they end up walking instead. These people are so poor usually because for every full day they work they only get one American dollar! These are the kind of people Peter’s class is going to help.”The cultural experience of this trip begins with kids from the U.S becoming friends with the kids in Mexico. They will go to the homes of some of the kids, and might even attend school there. Peter says that while they will learn some Spanish before they go, most of the Spanish they will learn while down there. In the past there is usually a dance at the end of the trip. The dance includes Mexican children and American. In the afternoons the class will play soccer and sometimes go horseback riding. This is when they do most of the interacting.”What you may be thinking is, ‘Where will they get the money to go?’ Well these kids have been working hard for part of last year and some of this year earning money. They have done bake sales, car washes, and much, much more! They are going to continue raising money this year. They are thinking about a spaghetti dinner and silent auction, and selling after-school snacks. All these fundraisers and the $200 everyone in the class must earn on their own should get them to their goal of $15,000. “The kids in Peter’s class are so exited about this trip. This will teach them what life is like in places other than home. Kari Throm, a student in Peter’s class, says, ‘I think this experience is all about helping those in need.’ The other kids think this will be a fun and exciting trip. They have talked to former students who say the trip was great. They can’t wait until the end of April. “These kids may not get a sun tan at the beach in Mexico, but they get something much better. They get a unique learning experience and the chance to help people less fortunate than they are. All that work, raising money and planning fundraisers, will finally pay off in April when they will set off on the journey of a lifetime.””Well, what do you think, Dad?””… Wow … WOW!”Roger Marolt believes that if what you want to get out of education is acceptance into an Ivy League school, that may be all you’ll get. Contact him at

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