Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Aspen Ideas Festival….final thoughts

I returned to the East Coast after a week in Colorado at the Aspen Ideas Festival.  The festival brought together philanthropists and leading voices on the problems that we face not only in this country, but worldwide.

During and after the conference, I wondered how the information presented and the perspectives of the people I met are applicable to the work that I do with Global Language Project, which aims to bring world language learning opportunities to underserved students.

At GLP we view language education as a means for students to achieve multiple ends—from academic success to broader professional opportunities by developing new social and leadership skills to helping them to understand their unique positions within an increasingly globalized and culturally connected world.

GLP is ultimately about facilitating interaction between people in current public education settings who would not typically interact in close and productive ways (top level administrators with on-the-ground instructors, parents and students). I walked away from the Aspen Ideas Festival (AIF) realizing that this convention connected to GLP’s work in the way that it too enabled multiple levels of interaction and exchange.

AIF brings together people and worlds that may never have the chance to meet in their typical professional circles.  You take a multi-million dollar philanthropist and tell them the realities of the children in Harlem that we serve—one, they are shocked but more importantly, interested in playing a role in the solution. The connection goes both ways—those attendees like myself who are constantly involved in grassroots work also came to see the value of getting people at the top of the socioeconomic latter to understand the relationship between education and local community empowerment.

I thought of the value that people like myself, who are effecting change at the grassroots level, bring to the 1  percent of the population that holds virtually all of the wealth in the world....or as Gwen Ifill told me, most of the attendees at the Aspen Ideas Festival are more like the .5%. The .5 or 1-percenters may not be as close to the issue as many other grassroots leaders…although many are quietly not only donating dollars but also volunteer hours. For example, while at the conference, I met the Head of Education for Apple, Steve Wilson, who was interested in chatting with me about how we will integrate Apple iPads this fall into our classrooms to help teach languages.

I found that the AIF was about leaving pre-conceived notions at the door and coming with an open mind and heart.  Anyone can talk about the myriad of issues that are impacting our world, our country and our neighborhoods. But I found that honest and heartfelt dialogue is needed to bring people closer and to facilitate the beginnings of collaborative projects and working relationships that can actually initiate on- the-ground changes.

This philosophy, in an interesting way, also constitutes the fabric of GLP’s mission; our programs are teaching students, their parents, and our supporters about the importance of engaging with one another, globally and cross–culturally.

Not only does the festival’s cross-cultural and cross-professional interaction have the potential to impact the bottom line in terms of dollars, but it inevitably makes participants more conscious and responsible citizens of the world.

In many ways, the Aspen Ideas Festival showed me the value of mutual understanding, of not isolating ourselves in our own professional bubbles. If we can create more open forums like these, I think many will see the fruitful ways educators and community activists can vocalize the complexity of their causes to those who on the surface may seem detached from the realities of the rest of this world, but whom I learned this week, are ready and willing to listen.

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