Posted by: Staff | 05.10.2010

Thinking Beyond Borders Meeting; Subject to Diverse Interpretations

KIRSTEN T. GUTE ’11

During the May 6 Thursday All School Meeting the entire student body was herded into Bradley Hall for yet another talk. As I entered, I overheard students making the usual remarks about how much they didn’t want to sit through another presentation that they weren’t interested in.  Yet, I think I can speak for most of my peers when I say the presentation was pleasantly surprising.  The speaker, Sam Porter, was a student who took a gap year with Thinking Beyond Borders (http://www.thinkingbeyondborders.org), where students travel the world between high school and college.  They live in many different countries over a period of eight months and truly get to have individual experiences in individual cultures. It was extremely captivating and gave a refreshing view of how experiential education can go beyond a traditional classroom.

Porter gave the details of his home stays in Ecuador, India, South Africa, and China. Well, he never got to speak with us about China. When telling about his work with a home health care program in South Africa our guest’s presentation was interrupted. He was stopped mid-sentence to be told it was time to end, and it felt to me like he was being lightly criticized. The administrator who interrupted Sam reminded the audience that his perspective of other cultures was just one perspective of places where millions of people with a variety of experiences live. The student body was clearly surprised that he was stopped in the middle of his presentation. Other speakers this year, such as the recent visiting poets, have “run long” and been allowed to continue without interjection.

The floor was then opened to questions, and the first set of questions from a staff member felt, at least to me, very harsh and even hostile.  Several rapid questions in succession asked Sam about specifics of his visits and even told him his experiences were not a valid form of information. For the first time in my six years attending BCDS, I was embarrassed to be associated with the school.

His main point, throughout his presentation, was that these were personal experiences that he, and he only, had lived through.  He never once stated that the entire country was represented by the daily lives the specific families he stayed with lived.  Although he pointed out the things that shocked him upon arriving in these foreign places, he also pointed out the fact that he didn’t have a right to judge what other peoples’ cultural norms are. He emphasized that exposure to other cultures did not give him answers but prompted many more questions in him, especially about his own culture.

I felt he remained respectful and educated in his answers to what some categorized as the rude behavior put upon him in front of the entire school. I thought he handled himself eloquently and calmly.  I know I can speak for the majority of my class when I say that I wish this situation had not been dealt with in this manner.  I heard many people in the halls stating that this was the first presentation this year that had truly interested them, and they were disappointed in the way a guest of our school was treated.

In a presentation that seemed to speak to what the mission statement of Beaver is all about, I was left feeling confused.  Isn’t experimental learning what makes this place so special and what we tell touring students is an important part of our curriculum? Trips to Costa Rica and Senegal are quite similar to what Sam was talking about, and I didn’t understand the confrontational environment that was created because of what he had discussed. I’m left wondering what was the objectionable content of his presentation. It clearly struck nerves, but I don’t know why. I felt, if anything, this would be a presentation that we could embrace, not force out.

I hope we can all learn from this experience and take away the thinking this young man had to offer, those thoughts that asked why education has to be limited.  Sam was showing us that creating your own way of learning is actually possible, and that not fitting into the mold is acceptable, even desirable.  So I ask, what did YOU think of the presentation?

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Responses

  1. i agree with what you’ve said, and i wonder if the student body will receive a formal explanation of what happened.

  2. it’s not fair how sam porter was treated by the BCDS administration and i think that the student body deserves an explanation and anb apology from certain staff members that behaved inappropriately.

  3. I wasn’t actually there at the presentation, but from what I know of it, I am disgusted by our school’s hypocritical promotion of censorship. We are taught here to listen to other peoples’ ideas and to forge our own based on what we know, but when someone comes and says some things that the high- ranking people in our community find to be objectionable based on their own beliefs, they make sure that the student body cannot be subject to that. We should all be mature enough to think for ourselves and accept other peoples’ views of the world without a hand feeding us what they want us to know, while covering up what they find unsuitable for us.

  4. I completely agree with this article. It was very unfair of the faculty to become angry about Sam’s message. He was simply illustrating things the way he saw them, not telling us all the nations were all terrible places like some of the staff saw it.

  5. Good article. Correction on the TBB website though: it’s http://www.thinkingbeyondborders.org


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