Instead, the new superintendent of the Telluride R-1 School District, Kyle Schumacher, and the new Head of the Telluride Mountain School, Joe Stefani, took the opportunity to discuss education in the 21st century and a little of their personal philosophies.
Schumacher worked most recently for School District 67 on Chicago’s North Shore and Stefani at Hilltop Country Day in New Jersey.
Schumacher began Wednesday’s community forum by asking the audience, “What should education look like as we move to the future?” He reminded his listeners that the amount of information coming at kids today is minute-by-minute.
“Websites are updated an hour ago,” he said. “It’s astounding the information kids are being inundated with. And, it’s not all facts.”
Schumacher stressed the importance of teaching students how to sort through this abundance of information and to prepare them for jobs that are not yet in existence.
He went on to describe the challenge posed by rising college tuitions and a strained economy.
“College costs are astronomically higher,” he said. “More kids are going to college and graduating with $100,000 in debt and working $30,000 a year jobs. How are they paying? How are we preparing our children for a world that is changing so rapidly?”
He answered his own rhetorical questions by acknowledging that no single individual had the answers, but argued that “collectively, we can capitalize on the strength of our resources,” to prepare the students of Telluride for the future.
Schumacher held up a book by Jamie Vollmer called Schools Cannot Do It Alone, emphasizing the title’s message. In Telluride, he suggested, it is important for the schools to partner with organizations such as The Pinhead Institute, The Telluride Institute’s San Miguel Watershed Education Program, and Telluride New Community Coalition to help students understand the issues and solutions of the 21st century.
“The conversation I’m going to be having now, is how do we connect with the community?” Schumacher said. “How do we listen and prepare for a future that none of us really know?”
Schumacher humorously introduced Stefani, noting that Stefani was one of the first people he met upon moving to Telluride.
“I realized Joe had never been to Telluride either and thought, neither have we, so we’ve got to be best friends,” Schumacher joked.
Stefani kept the mood light, mentioning that one of his early questions to Schumacher was, “Did anybody tell you not to dress up for your interview?”
Schumacher shot back with his observation that, “French cuffs were not in, in Telluride.”
All joking was put aside, however, Stefani delved into a philosophical discussion of his ideas regarding the role of education in developing, what he called, “a vibrant citizenry,” which in turn would hold up the ideals of a strong, democratic society.
Stefani gave a brief history of the role of education and the press, mentioning that during the time of the nation’s founders, the free press was responsible to maintain an enlightened population, or informed citizenry, who would participate in the nation’s democratic process.
“The popular media has thrown up its hands in regards to creating an educated citizenry,” Stefani said. He added that he saw the creation of vibrant citizens as the job of schools.
“The Mountain School needs to expand its values to include those linked to a democracy, like human dignity, autonomy and freedom,” he said.
Stefani explained that the Mountain School currently teaches a set of four core values – respect, love of learning, responsibility and integrity – that would be expanded to include societal values like “justice, equity and social responsibility.”
“Schools need to turn to questions that will create an education worthy of our democracy,” he added.
Stefani wants schools to help students find solutions to the problems of this century as well as to create connections across the curriculum that will allow students to do their best thinking on the most pressing problems.
According to Stefani, the way to develop such problem solvers is to expose them to experiential learning, programming the Mountain School prides itself on.
“The moral imperative of global citizenship is experiential learning,” Stefani said.
Ten years down the road, Stefani dreams of “a global education institute where the priority is put on travel and the Mountain School has secured partnerships with schools in other countries.”
Stefani concluded by saying, “Guided by a set of values – individual and democratic values like ethics, tolerance, and a commitment to social justice – education must promote the development of intellect, imagination and ethics, and bring those things to bear on a democracy that we all desire.”