Facilitated by Peter Block and Angeles Arrien
The final gathering of Chautauqua 2011 was to bring the 10 students who were attending together in the center in what is sometimes called a “fishbowl.” This is where a small group is witnessed in conversation by the larger group that sits outside the circle.
Peter had the rest of the participants choose one of the students in particular to witness so each student had a support group of four or five participants. Then the students sat in a circle with Angeles and Peter and the following discussion took place. When the first part of the discussion was complete, each of the students sat with their support group to discuss the process, and then reflected back to the large group what the experience meant to them.
Peter Block: So now we have the small question of what’s the purpose of this conversation? Angeles do you want to say something to that?
Angeles Arrien: One of the things that I think that would be wonderful for all of us to hear is, in coming to this Chautauqua, what have you learned, or what motivated you to come? And, how have you found it at this time? I know many of you’ve had this really deep experience in South Africa, and it’s still working you. You’re still being shaped, and re-shaped by that experience.
I know when Nelson Mandela was involved in the Truth and Reconciliation process, he asked the entire townships of South Africa to say this three line invocation every single day; said, “Let us take care of the children, for they have a long way to go.” That was the first line. The second line, “Let us take care of the elders, for they have come a long way.” The third and last line, “And let us take care of those in-between, for they are doing the work.” And this whole collective here is in those places. We have, “Let us take care of the children, for they have a long way to go.” Which we have the holy privilege of really hearing and listening to you today about your experience and what’s deeply working you and shaping you as a result of that trip, and also as a result of being here, as a part of the return. For those of us who are elders, we’ve come a long way, and still we continue to learn, from you. You are our hope. And for those in-between, for they are doing the work, and there is such learning in that work. So I’m so excited to hear what you have to say; and to learn from you.
Peter Block: What this is not, is a discussion of the trip. Otherwise, you’re living in the past. The trip was over, it was wonderful, it was well documented, and in addition, reports are always boring. Except to the reporter, and their immediate family. So I think, you said this beautifully, but what’s the experience you’re having being here today? So let’s just see if there’s something you came to say, and then I’ve got some specific questions to help. Sorry for putting you one the spot, but that’s the way it works.
McKenzie Caborn: I’ll just say a short thing about Africa. In Africa, one of the biggest lessons I think that I learned was, it’s not about going there to take care of people, or to help them, per say, it’s about going there and offering a support system for which they can take care of themselves; and just going with an open heart and loving them for exactly where they are at that moment. Coming back here, I’ve been longing for the same opportunity, and I think Chautauqua – has embodied that concept, because we all come here, we’re at different stages of our lives, and we’re all just embracing and open to new discoveries, and the unknown, and helping each other figure it out together. I don’t think anybody has come here from a place of authority, or coming here to help others, it’s just coming here to listen and provide a support system, which we can all take care of ourselves.
Peter Block: Do you think you’ve been able to support or help others in these two days?
McKenzie Caborn: I hope so. I think I offer a new perspective, being in a different stage in my life than a lot of people here.
Peter Block: Thank you for starting McKenzie. Let’s not go around the room because that’s tyrannical.
Mari Fox: The Chautauqua just holds a really special place in my heart because, in addition to how I feel while I’m at Mount Madonna, I just feel really accepted. I’m a part of the community despite the fact that I’m younger than most of the people here. I also just feel responsibility in being here; that I’m taking responsibility for my own education and being here with so many great educators, and people who are genuinely concerned with how education affects our lives and your lives. It’s an amazing experience to be able to hear from people who are, in general, authority figures in my life and to see them as humans and to see them as active members of my education; not just as my teachers, but my support system, my community, my friends, and to see you all in a very human level is refreshing. It allows me to come in and look at education in a very different way. I hope that you guys can all take this and bring these feelings to other students, and I have confidence that you can. I really appreciate everybody here and the Chautauqua in general: it’s a very important week in my life every summer. So thank you.
Taylor Krilanovich: There are a lot of educators in this room, and I know it’s unusual for students to attend an educational conference; it’s kind of out of the ordinary. But it was really touching to see their interest in what helps us; again, it’s like McKenzie was saying, they’re willing to help us create a system that works, and really gives us what we need. And I really appreciate their concern for us.
Lulu Haltom: In South Africa, everyone – everywhere we went, I felt like I was coming home, like I was part of their family. So coming back to California, I’ve had kind of a hard time, because everyone here relates to each other so differently; and instead of going up and hugging someone, it’s more normal to sort of make eye contact, and give a handshake. So I’ve had a hard to relating to people, I guess, here. And coming to Chautauqua has felt like coming home, because everyone here so quickly becomes a community, and so it’s really refreshing to feel that again.
Blythe Collier: I think, last year I came to Chautauqua, with no idea what to expect. I thought, “ok people are telling me it’ll be a good thing for me, so I’ll go.” I went, and I was going into junior year, and I was nervous about that; but the community here and the humanizing that Mari talked about, I think it gave me confidence and independence that I didn’t have before. And it taught me how to be self-sufficient, I think in a way. But at the same time, I guess it’s kind of a paradox because it also taught me about the community and relying on the community. This whole year I’ve seen the barriers between like, this is your teacher, this is the student, and this is the wall – that’s not there. I felt like it was ok that I looked at teachers as friends and mentors, because for me, a mentor and a teacher, they should go hand in hand. I think often, well I’ve never been to another school, but I think sometimes they don’t go hand in hand. I think a mentor is the emotional teacher, and then the teacher teaches you the facts, so I’ve learned so much more being able to have emotional teachers who are also my teachers. And coming back to Chautauqua has re-established that, and just confirmed it.
Angeles Arrien: Well thank you.
Amber Leigh: So I talked with SN (Ward) a little bit about this a few weeks ago, and yesterday I talked about the connection I felt to other people. Throughout yesterday and then today, and thinking about it last night, I realized the other person that I felt the connection to, was myself. I found the connection between my heart, and my mind, and my gut, through the vulnerability of expressing myself and my imperfections to other people. Through that connection and bond, I found myself in a wholeness that I don’t think I’ve ever experienced before. I feel like I’ve come into myself through this experience, and through other people. And I’m really thankful for that opportunity, because it’s something that I feel like – I hear people talk about and people strive for it. And it’s a physical experience. I physically feel it in myself, as well as emotionally. And that’s really what I’ve taken out of this whole experience, is connection to other people and through that, to myself.
Quincy Mitchell: Well, in SN’s (Ward’s) value’s class, it’s usually the last five minutes of class, and the first twenty minutes of lunch that we spend doing our sharing of what struck us and what we’ve learned that day. And usually in that time period is usually when people are the most annoyed; people talking, they just want to go to lunch, and whenever the next person talks, people get more mad cause they’re getting hungry. (laughter) So it’s usually been hard to feel that what we share is sort of appreciated, and I think what I’ve really liked about going to Chautauqua is, you can share your thoughts, and people actually take it for what it is, rather than a delaying of lunch.
Amita Kuttner: Well, I came here yesterday, this is my first time. I had no expectation. I had heard it would be a wonderful experience; but I had no idea what would be said, but I thought it would be beautiful, and it turned out to be more beautiful than I could have imagined. The things about land, and elders, and looking after all of that, and the children, has just reinforced something within myself that I found really important. As well as the reverence and the irreverence of everybody who speaks, has been great. And I think I was driven to come because I’m devoted to learning, because I don’t see any other reason to be here, other than to learn from everything. I’ve realized, I did not always believe this, but I realize, that in order to learn, you must first admit that you do not know. And in the subjects that I study – I study science – you can’t think that you know. You always have to say, “I don’t know. And that’s alright.” And then you can proceed. So, thank you.
Peter Block: When you said, learning is the reason I’m here, you mean that’s the reason you’re on earth?
Palak Bhatnagar: What Amita said, for me it’s also about learning. But I’ve always gotten the sense, at least at school, yea it’s about learning to get somewhere in life, but I think Chautauqua really enforces the fact that the most important thing is learning about yourself and who you are. And last year I came here, never had taken SN’s (Wards’) class, which is similar to this in many ways, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, and having that first experience, and now – still not really knowing what I was getting myself into coming here, and just the whole Africa experience, trying to figure out what I want to do. People telling me I should know, society telling me it’s not ok that at this age that I don’t know what I want to do. I’ve just – I was talking to SN (Ward) and Dr. Nicole about this, that I’ve always thought, when I get older, I’ll have it all figured out, I know I’ll get there. But I guess coming here, everyone here telling me, “Oh, I don’t have it figured out.” It freaks me out, because it’s my time to figure it out, and you don’t know. I think it freaks me out, but also makes me feel confident, because you guys are doing fine, and not everyone knows what they want to do, so everybody is ok.
Peter Block: So, I thought of a question, and the question would be: What is it that you think we don’t understand about you? What don’t we as adults, get about you?
Taylor Krilanovich: I think that they don’t get how much we change from day to day. Cause this is the most fluid time of our lives, and I think we do – some of us learn something new everyday, and a lot of it – a life changing experience is very easy to come by at this age, I think. So I think they kind of are constantly amazed at how much we’ve changed-
Peter Block: Surprised, disappointed…
Taylor Krilanovich: Because it’s so internalized, I guess, we don’t carry it as close to the surface as we think we do. But we definitely do change more than you guys know.
Peter Block: Hard to keep up with, for us.
Palak Bhatnagar: Adding to what she said, about changing everyday – personally, I definitely don’t like getting told what to do. But the other opposite of that is, being in an ocean, and not having any boundaries. For me, that’s just as bad as being told what to do, because I feel like I’m so clueless, and I don’t have a sense of direction, that I think that the older generation sometimes feel that they should let us just figure out on your own, it’s like, “Ok, do whatever you want.” And the other half of that is, “No, you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re too young, and this is what you need to do; blah, blah, blah.” But I think it’s finding that balance of guiding us, without telling us what to do, but also not leaving us so clueless, because we do depend on you guys to, in a sense, know what you’re doing – even if you don’t.
Peter Block: We’re good at faking it. It’s what works.
Blythe Collier: Actually, when you asked that question, I remembered in South Africa, I think it was our first day there, at Novalis, we had this exact discussion, talking to adults and children – talking to each other about this exact topic, and about the generations, and thinking about is there a divide between generations? At first, I was like, “Yea, yea, adults don’t understand us. They can’t remember what it’s like.” Then a classmate said something that struck me and I’m kind of channeling more what she said, than what I said, because what I said then is not what I think anymore; she said, “Adults were children once, and that they do understand us.” And one thing that I think goes along with that, is, adults have been children, but we’ve never been adults. And I think that that’s the difference, and that’s were the miscommunication comes; adults have seen both sides, so they maybe know things, or have memories and can connect them. But we can’t connect our memories now of what it’s like to be an adult, and that’s where I think the divide sometimes shows up.
Mari Fox: I feel like adults really feel like they need to emanate the sense of perfection and just uphold it at any cost, and for us, we need that vulnerability, because when we’re looking at out mentors, and our teachers, and our parents, and in this case, our friends, upholding this sense of perfection, we feel like we need to copy it. And it’s a lot of pressure to have, and if feel like it really disrupts, in a lot of ways, the process of learning because we’re not focusing on what we actually need to know, but rather, we’re focusing on mimicking your false sense of perfection.
Peter Block: Pretty much wraps it up. Thank you. That was beautifully said.
Amita Kuttner: I think that many adults don’t know that we know that you’re still children inside, and you still like to play, and that we would be perfectly happy to play with you.
Peter Block: Thank you. Thanks for the invitation. Here comes Quincy – What’s it like being the only guy in the circle? Don’t you get tired of that?
Quincy Mitchell: No. I think something adults don’t understand about us, is that we don’t respond at all well to getting put down when we’ve made mistakes. Like we don’t have any motivation for self-improvement when we get shut down. I think we’re already aware when we’re bringing home a bad report card, that we’ve messed up. And sort of getting shouted at into the night about it, doesn’t make us feel any better about trying to improve it. That’s always something that comes up in my life. And I don’t get any desire or motivation to improve, when I get shut down for any efforts that I’ve made.
Lulu Haltom: I think that because it’s such a time of change for us, that a lot of times adults don’t really take seriously our dreams, or our goals, because they think everything is changing – and everything is changing, but I don’t think that means that our dreams are any less potent. And for me, I love to sing, and dance, and do theatre. And I was always told that that’s not a good career path for you and that you shouldn’t do that. And so I just kind of shut down that dream. And I think just realizing, that even though we are constantly changing, our dreams are still very important to us.
Peter Block: So, how about if we take a break now? Am I shutting anybody off who wants to say anything? No? Ok. Because the idea that everybody has to say something means that the last three people are lying, because they’re just trying to get this over with. So it’s nice that some of you haven’t said anything. So how about you meet with those who are standing behind you, and have whatever conversation seems rich for you, and we’ll come back in about eight minutes. Ok? So let’s do that now. Take a break. So any reflection you have, especially on the experience we’ve had together this morning, that would be wonderful to hear what it meant to you, or any challenges it presents to you?
After the Break
Amber Leigh: One of the first things that struck me is, through the structure of Chautauqua, I don’t get much of a chance to listen to my fellow students speak, because we’re often in groups with adults getting to know people who we’ve never met before. But to hear the people I do know, speak with such heart and beauty, was really touching for me, because I know you all, and I speak to you all everyday. But there’s something different about what happens here at Chautauqua, and what that brings out in you. And I love you all infinitely, but at the same time, it made me realize the amount of respect I have for you. And it just makes me love you guys even more – if that’s possible… And then also, when I was back in my group of supporters – supporters is just a perfect word, because even just as I’m speaking now, and I look around, I feel the support of every single person in this room. And that is such an incredibly unique experience, to truly feel complete and utter support and love from people you met two days ago. Thank you all, so much.
Blythe Collier: For me, I made a realization or discovery while talking to my group, that I tend to journal out loud, where I just think out loud, and analyze myself, and sort things out while talking to people. My friends have put up with me, not making any sense, and they just listen to me. And I wanted to thank my group for asking me so many questions that I hadn’t asked myself yet, and giving me the time to sit there, a little bit confused, thinking about it before answering, and then truly listening and letting me discover, and feeling like my discovery was worth something.
Peter Block: Anybody else like to say something?
Taylor Krilanovich: Describing this school to people is so difficult. But having people from the outside come to an event like this that is the quintessential essence of everything I love about Mt. Madonna, is really refreshing, because you finally are able to show people what this school is about, and why we love it. Because you really can’t appreciate it until you’ve experience it. And I love that you all have gotten to experience it.
Peter Block: Any final one or two? Don’t feel pressured. Quincy wants to say something? Let him go last. It’ll make him feel better.
McKenzie Caborn: Yea, he always finishes the show.
Peter Block: He’s in heaven right now. So let him enjoy it.
McKenzie Caborn: I just want to echo my appreciation for everybody standing in this room, because I think sometimes with adults – it’s a great intention that they want to hear children speak, but sometimes they don’t really listen to what we’re saying. They’re just appreciating that children are courageous to speak in front of adults. And when I got into my group, and Sampad told me how much what I had said, that specifically what I had said, touched him, and he knew the meaning behind my words. I think it just shows that you guys see us as people, and not just children, and I’m very, very grateful for that.
Quincy Mitchell: Lhadron asked me a really a good question when we were in our group over here: she asked me where I get the drive to participate in things when I’m the only guy student in the circle, and other things where I’m sort of unique and alone in what I’m doing, and how I get my motivation to do stuff like that. I think it goes to a bigger question in education, like in a better way to motivate students, is rather than condemning their failures, but asking them what drives them to succeed, sort of focusing on that drive.
Peter Block: Well said. Angeles any final thoughts you had?
Angeles Arrien: No, except thank you, very much. Thank you.
Peter Block: God bless us all, and let’s take a little break.