Some of the most exciting and personal academic work at Moses Brown has emerged from the faculty cohort plan, a professional development and evaluation program. In a year of transformational study, a cohort of veteran teachers sets goals, serves as … Continue reading
TRIPs – Travel, Research, and Immersion Programs – foster a rising generation of civic-minded, multilingual, and ethical global citizens. New courses and a broad array of travel opportunities help students explore cultures, life experiences, and worldviews different from their own, while a marine education program allows students to investigate the ecology and resources of Narragansett Bay.
“Going to Kenya was incredible. It was my first time out of the country. It definitely opened my eyes to being in a different culture and what can happen there, how people interact differently.
The people were so happy to see us. I remember our bus pulling over in front of a school – it seemed like a thousand kids came out to see our bus and say hello with the biggest smiles on their faces. We just kept repeating “rafiki” (friend).
We tried to do meaningful work while there – painting walls and windows and fixing the school’s cement floors.
Going on trips like this has made me think about what I want to study in college. I’m now looking at schools with international relations programs.
Even on MB’s smaller trips, you meet so many different people and do things that have impact, right here at home.
Kids in college go abroad. To experience that in high school is awesome. It gets you out of your comfort zone. Having lived in little Rhode Island my whole life, traveling to Kenya was amazing. You learn to be open to new people and situations and you learn the context for the larger situation wherever you are.
You can also be amazed. I’m big into music – when I saw those kids put on dances and performances, create incredible sounds and rhythms using water-carrying drums, it was inspiring.”
By David Wasser, middle school teacher
Fifty years after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the passage of the first significant Civil Rights legislation in this country, we find ourselves again struggling against the pernicious forces of prejudice and discrimination. Not that prejudice and discrimination had ever gone away; but the past several years have brought us a string of particularly tragic and ugly reminders of what happens when our biases and stereotypes manifest themselves in our actions and behaviors.
The list of black men, women, and children who have died at the hands of law enforcement personnel just in the last two years is beyond disheartening. It is a national shame.
In the political discourse of this new election cycle, we see how easily and successfully some are able to invoke vile stereotypes to stoke and exploit the fears of millions of our fellow citizens. It is frightening to see just how small is the distance between a rally and a lynch mob, and how thin is the veneer that separates an advanced cosmopolitan civilization from one that is primitive and tribalistic.
Where have we gone wrong? How could it be that our annual commemoration of lofty
words and deeds has not innoculated us against the disease of bigotry? Where is the Promised Land that Dr. King claimed to see?
If my experiences have taught me anything, it is that the only effective way to combat prejudice and stereotypical thinking is personal contact with people from all variety of backgrounds. Bringing people together with others who are different from them – not just to sit and politely listen to a speaker – but to really live together, eat together, pray together, sing together, learn together, and work together, is the most effective antidote to the spread of stereotypical thinking.
I am forever grateful for having been born into a family that values travel and the cultural enlightenment that it makes possible. As a teenager, I was given the opportunity to visit Israel, where I lived and worked in a kibbutz. There I got to meet not only young Israelis of my age, but also young people from all over Europe, and many other countries. We studied Hebrew, worked milking cows and picking fruit, went sightseeing together, and celebrated every Friday night in the bombshelter-cum-discotheque. This sojourn led to a whirlwind tour of Europe, including a visit to France, where the warmth and kindness of every stranger I met blew my previous image of the French out of the water! A few years later on, I jumped at the chance to trek with a couple of college friends from Casablanca, Morocco along the southern Mediterranean coast to Algeria, then south and across the Sahara on the back of an open truck, and on into the West African nation of Mali. From Mali, I went and spent some time in Egypt before heading north to visit my old friends in Israel.
In every place I visited – despite cultural and linguistic barriers, despite different ways of doing things, despite different views of how society should be organized and governed – I found people who were friendly, generous, welcoming, curious, and intelligent. I found people who loved and believed in their way of living, and those who wanted to make a change. I discovered that what I thought I knew about certain places and people just didn’t fit the reality I was seeing. I realized that a stereotype is a just a two-dimensional representation of creatures that are multidimensional! I learned, also, that getting to know a person face-to-face is an experience a thousand times richer and more satisfying than hearing about a person through a second-hand account.
So how does this kind of personal connection with people who are different from oneself work to counteract the effects of negative stereotypes and generalizations? Speaking for myself, I know that whenever I hear or read something about a place I have visited and where I have friends, I have a different reaction than when I hear about people or places where I have no connection. In the former case, I think of the people I know and see their faces in my mind. I compare what I am being told with what I know, and I am therefore able to evaluate more critically the information being given. In the latter case, however, I lack the same frame of reference. I am much more at the mercy of whoever’s perspective is being shown to me, and all I have are the stereotypes I have picked up with which to assess the validity of the claims being made.
At MB, this truth is recognized and acknowledged through the TRIPs program. Students of the 21st century are stepping into a world where “interconnected” has almost become a cliché. Our students will certainly be interacting with people from all around the world in their daily lives. To a great extent, they already do! They do not need to travel far across the globe to encounter different cultures and ways of thinking. We have incredible diversity all around us!
It will be essential, therefore, to our students’ success in this world that they get out and meet it face-to-face. They need to learn to identify and reject stereotypes encountered in the media, in stump speeches, in board rooms, and in casual conversations. This is not so simply for the moral and ethical reasons, which are certainly sufficient; but also for practical reasons. Decisions and actions that are based on stereotypes – rather than a deep understanding of history, culture, values, and beliefs – are, at best, less efficacious; at worst, life-threatening.
Giving students the opportunity to travel, experience, and build authentic connections with people from all walks of life enables them to develop a clearer, more accurate, more nuanced picture of the world, and prepares them to fill the ethical leadership roles we so urgently need.
By Beth Lantz, instructor (with contributions from students)
Recently Moses Brown’s Civics in Action class traveled to Washington, D.C. The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) welcomed us and we began our lobby training on peacebuilding enthusiastically. We met with Senator Jack Reed (see picture) who listened attentively as the students asked for his support of Senator Ben Cardin’s upcoming bill to permanently authorize the Atrocities Prevention Board. Students shared personal stories about how their families have been affected by war, as well as what they have learned in their Civics and Literature of War courses at MB. Senator Reed stated that our students had convincing arguments and that the federal government must invest more in peacebuilding efforts. He agreed to have his staff look into Senator Cardin’s bill. The students will follow up with Senator Reed’s staff in upcoming weeks. In addition to Senator Reed, students had successful meetings with the legislative staff of Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressmen James Langevin and David Cicilline.
We were at the Martin Luther King, Jr. and Franklin D. Roosevelt monuments when most of us heard about the Paris attacks that took place on November 13. While it was difficult to have students away from their families at such a scary time, we took comfort in each other and talked about how peace, humanitarianism and inclusion are still our best tools in working for a better world. We arrived back home exhausted, but still invigorated by our work in D.C., and the power that lobbying can have in our democracy.
I would like to extend a HUGE thank you to our Director of Friends Education Galen McNemar Hamann who was my fellow chaperone on this trip. At every turn she helped students see that our Quaker values can be lived through public policy. She was an invaluable resource connecting us with the folks at FCNL and others at the institute. I am grateful for her time, energy, and stamina.
Kieran H. ’16:
From our trip to DC I learned a lot about peacebuilding. I know now that it is a process that takes time. Our government is not going to shift to peacebuilding overnight, but by promoting it we can slowly begin to move towards peaceful relations, prevention, and mitigation of conflicts. I learned that peacebuilding is not just an idea, but a process that in action, truly does help. It is clear more countries are responding in a positive light to peacebuilding initiatives, compared to military intervention. Through our lobbying it is clear that our government elected officials see peacebuilding as an efficient and productive way to prevent atrocities and genocides. I also did not realize that peacebuilding can still be effective once countries are already experiencing such atrocities.
Molly H. ’16:
Our world is currently undergoing troubling times all over, especially since the recent attacks in Paris. Congress and other government officials have the greatest power when it comes to preventing atrocities which means that persuading them is most important.
The purpose of peacebuilding is to prevent war before it begins and FCNL is determined to do so. Lastly, I learned that peacebuilding doesn’t just mean preventing war. Peacebuilding also means pushing for equal rights, helping our earth, diminishing all acts of violence, and fixing the nation’s unbalanced budgets. Prior to the trip I only thought we would be lobbying to stop war, which yes we did do, but there was much more to it.
Alexa S. ’16:
I really enjoyed the trip to DC, both in my newfound understanding of peacebuilding, as well as in the good-hearted fun we had. Entering the trip, I did not really have a firm grasp of what we would be doing, and what the meetings with FCNL would entail. However, after the first night with FCNL in our lobby training, I was able to connect the pieces and see the bigger picture in preparation for our meetings with the congress members. I learned a lot about peacebuilding and how we can use nonviolence to prevent deaths, mitigate conflicts before civil war, and reduce financial strains. This trip made me aware of the Atrocities Prevention Board, something that I would not have known anything about otherwise. I learned how to lobby, and how direct contact with our congressmen and congresswomen can greatly influence their actions and decisions in legislating. Overall, the major take away that I had was that regardless of how small a part of society I am as one person, my views and voice CAN be heard and make a difference. It sounds cliché, but this trip taught me that in order to exercise the full extent of my civic power, I must do anything I can to get involved in our government, one way being lobbying.
Today being the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha we share this curriculum highlight: Conversations with Muslims in the Moses Brown community and greater Providence help students to understand the diversity of perspectives within the religion. Sophomores in Kelly Joseph’s Religious Studies class last year had the opportunity to learn about the beliefs and practices of Islam. One particular discussion took place at Masjid al-Islam in North Smithfield. Mufti Ikram ul Haq welcomed students into the mosque, explaining Muslim prayer and ritual, and answering questions about the practice of Islam in the United States.
By Laura Hunt, 3rd grade teacher
In 2014, Lower School launched an overnight adventure opportunity for twelve upper elementary students. Moses Brown faculty partnered with the Appalachian Mountain Club’s education department to design an experience that would speak to our values as a Friends school. We spent four days and three nights as a team exploring the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The program’s overwhelming success led us to offer it to third and fourth graders again this year.
After a 3 ½ hour bus ride, our journey began to take shape at the Highland Center, located in Crawford Notch. Students were immediately drawn to the nature-based playground and to the good food we would enjoy throughout our stay. We were introduced to our education team, Jeremy and Tess, who reviewed our itinerary and outlined the “leave no trace” principles we would follow. Settling into our simply outfitted bunk rooms, we realized that, for some students, this was the first night they would sleep away from family members.
Our second day in New Hampshire was filled with great anticipation. In 2014, we had hiked almost two miles of rocky terrain to Lonesome Lake. This year, we had planned a longer, but less steep, trek to Zealand Falls. Each student was responsible for their own clothing and gear. They had carefully sorted and repacked only what they needed for our backcountry hike. Keeping our packs light was a priority. We shuttled to the trail head early in the morning, where each student was assigned a role, such as leader, navigator, or water reminder. Resting, snacking, and playing games along the way helped us slow down time. As we distanced ourselves from the more familiar sounds and sights of the road, students’ observation skills became keener. They noticed the unique smell of the woods, the song of the hermit thrush, and the delicate lady’s slippers lining the trail.
Students’ self-reliance and problem-solving skills are put to the test when they stay at the huts. There is cold running water, but no showers. There are a few board games to play, but no phones or electronics. We sleep on bunks that are stacked three high, and we clean up after ourselves. Sometimes there are bugs. The upsides are numerous as well. Each step is met with beautiful views, we share meals and laughter with people from other places, and we get to know our schoolmates more deeply. A highlight of each trip has been a longer day hike to a more remote location. Gazing over a valley on our way to Thoreau Falls this year, one student expressed that it was “so big and so beautiful, it almost doesn’t seem real.” Impressions such as this are lasting.
Children’s curiosity and ability to make connections seem to come alive in the wilderness. Our hope is that spending uninterrupted, focused time outdoors with our students will help them feel compelled to preserve and protect natural environments. Working through authentic problems as a team will strengthen their belief in the power of their communities. The Lower School trip to the White Mountains is one way students can experience firsthand Moses Brown’s commitment to the utmost care for learning, people, and place.