Listening to our youth
This past week I had the privilege of leading an Aspen Institute seminar on the Great Ideas for students from four local high schools: Aspen, Basalt, Glenwood Springs and Carbondale (Roaring Fork).After spending four days with these 23 high school juniors, I feel hopeful, renewed and encouraged about our future. These students from different ethnic, socioeconomic and religious backgrounds gathered here for a seminar on the Great Ideas at The Aspen Institute. I found these young people to be bright, well-educated, caring and thoughtful.However, like young people everywhere they often feel, that we, the adult population, do not listen to their voices seriously. We should – they have a lot to say.We read from some of the classics – Plato, Aristotle, Confucius, Thucydides, as well as modern-day thinkers and leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Ursula LaGuin, Edward O. Wilson and Shashi Tharoor.We focused on understanding their arguments – and their central points. What do they think of human nature, justice, the good society, liberty, equality, happiness? We talked not about partisan politics but about the underlying values which we are confronting in our country.We engaged in civil discourse – respectful, good listening, trying to understand another argument and a great desire to learn from each other. These young people were bursting with ideas and feelings. They offered great insights into the texts and into contemporary challenges. These are our future citizens and they care a lot about the future of America and life on this planet for all human beings.At times there was frustration and misunderstanding and often there was patience, careful listening, clear articulation of viewpoints and a real feeling of mutual respect in the room. We wrestled with so many timeless issues and what it means to be great as a human being or as a country.As Jimmy Carter said at The Aspen Institute’s 50th anniversary celebration, “Greatness needs to be defined, and, on occasion, reassessed. What would be your definition of the greatest nation on earth?” This is a topic that deserves all of our attention.My life has been enriched by this experience and I want to share with you some of their thoughts about life here in the Roaring Fork Valley. I hope that you will read them carefully; they deserve our attention and our response. They are our future.Today my mind is centered on the idea of “action.” And I have to ask what is action, what does it mean to be active? How can we trust people with all the horrible things that they do? And to this I can only give my simplistic and idealistic opinion. All people have the capacity for good, all people can change.Abrihette YawaGlenwood SpringsMy biggest concern in this valley is how all of our ideas are usually pushed aside. We are constantly asked to help in our community and give out our ideas and opinions, but often it feels like no one listens to what we have to say.Karina GarciaCarbondaleAs a teenager in the Roaring Fork Valley, I think there is a deep problem with prejudices against Hispanics. How many prejudiced jokes or comments do you hear in a week? How many people actually do more than walk away? Like Gandhi, I feel that we need to lead by example. When we sit down at lunch, are we really exposing ourselves to new cultures? Both Caucasians and Hispanics need to break this cultural segregation by actually sitting and talking with people from other cultures. Humans by nature seem to have certain prejudices, but to fix one of the most relevant issues in our community, we need to begin to address these prejudices.AnonymousThe education system in this valley needs a lot of work. Take Aspen High School, for example. This city has no problem pouring approximately $40 million into a new high school building, but when asked for $2,000 to fund new instruments for the music program, the school says, “Sorry, it’s out of the budget.” The school gladly purchases a new grading system that kids can view on the Internet but they can’t seem to hire a college counselor. The school has to start prioritizing its spending of money.Jake LansburghAspenI think that the biggest problem in this valley is racial discrimination. This issue needs to be addressed. There are many derogatory terms for the Hispanics in this valley that need to stop being used. There are also many jokes and comments thrown about. I think that having people from other countries living here is a wonderful opportunity for all of us to learn more about other cultures. However, before we can accept and learn, we need to stop separating and discriminating.Brooke ShefferBasaltWe live in one of the most beautiful valleys around. Yet in its beauty, we need to be more conscious of preserving it. If everybody would begin to do just their small part of helping out the environment, I think that we could make a positive change. People should recycle as much as they can, car-pool more or use different methods of getting to work/school, clean up the parks and conserve water. If everyone put in some small effort, we can keep our valley clean and preserved for many generations to come.AnonymousLee Bycel moderates seminars at The Aspen Institute, leads leadership seminars around the country and just returned from a humanitarian trip to Chad.
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