Preschool through IB Middle School

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Middle School Seminar

During the week of January 7th – 10th, all BCD middle school students participated in the BCD Seminar. The BCD Seminar is modeled after the Aspen Institute Seminar and is intended as an opportunity for BCD students to stretch their intellectual thinking. With over 60 years of experience, the Aspen Institute Seminar is designed to help people of all ages and walks of life to reflect upon the most important questions facing us as human beings and as leaders.
 
Each night, BCD students were assigned texts by various authors, both ancient (including Aristotle) and current (including J.K. Rowling). The texts were used to prompt students to think about complex human issues such as: Is goodness something that is in humans or is it something that needs to be taught and learned? Is it something we as humans are born with or must choose to act on? In-school discussion were then led by guest moderators, Todd Breyfogle, Director of Seminars for the Aspen Institute, and Allyson Sudbourough, Teacher Effectiveness Coach for Denver Public Schools.
 
As you can see, the texts present some really big concepts. Students were advised that while the texts are difficult, to not be discouraged because Seminar is intended to be a laboratory in which—together—they will try to figure out what the texts say and mean, both on their own terms and for us as humans today. They were also reminded that seminar discussions thrive on questions. So, very often it is the seemingly simplest questions that can provoke the most meaningful discussions.
Students began the seminar by examining the painting of “Icarus” who is seen plunging into the water after his wings have melted. The bystanders seem unfazed by Icarus’ fall and do not appear to be making any effort to rescue him. An open discussion of human nature then began on whether or not Icarus should be saved. The conversations remained lively from there on out.
 
Moderator Todd Breyfogle shared that his discussion of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (on friendship) with the BCD 7th grade students was one of the best he had ever had, with students OR adults! This is quite a compliment coming from the Director of Seminars at the Aspen Institute. There seemed to be a sense of pride in our students as they realized they could read, understand, and discuss Aristotle. Another thing our moderators and Mr. Welch noticed was how BCD students appreciated the opportunity to discuss big topics that do not necessarily have a right or wrong answer are not designed to lead to any particular conclusion, by rather serves to stretch themselves intellectually and challenge them personally. 
 
“BCD students are remarkably capable. They devoured a dense selection from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and were ready to engage in conversation, armed with questions and opinions. It was one of the best conversations I’ve had on Aristotle’s understanding of friendship, whether with adults or younger people.”
–Todd Breyfogle, PhD, Managing Director, Seminars, The Aspen Institute
 
At the end of the week, students created personal mission statements or wrote letters to their future selves about some of the important things they had learned about themselves from the process.

We hope the seminar experience of deep learning through community discussion will remain a meaningful touchstone for these students for many years to come. We would also like to extend special thanks to alumni parent former board member, Jay Orris of Peak to Peak Management, for bringing this opportunity to BCD many years ago and for his ongoing support of the program.

 
Personal experience statement by Mills, 7th grade.
 
I thought the Middle School Seminar would be an interesting way to learn about morals and ethics, but also learn about my classmates’ opinions and ideology. I ended up learning those things in addition to learning about human inclinations when someone is in trouble. It was interesting to hear what my classmates thought about whether humans are by nature good or bad. We read a very moving autobiographical piece by George Orwell, called “Shooting an Elephant”. It ignited an hour-long conversation about whether shooting the elephant in the story was morally right, even if Orwell feared for his life if he didn’t kill the elephant. We also discussed a painting portraying Icarus flailing and drowning in the Aegean Sea, as onlookers refused to help. This initiated a conversation about whether humans are born good or bad, or whether it’s a learned behavior. I found this conversation interesting and was intrigued by my classmates’ thoughts.
 
I was positively impacted by the experience of sharing our thoughts. The Middle School Seminar was inspiring and gave me lasting insights into my peers, human nature, history and the world as a whole.
 
 
Texted used in 2020 BCD Seminar
 
6th grade: Risk and Reflection
Session 1: What is our nature?
  • Intro, Painting (Icarus)
  • Plato, “Ring of Gyges” (shortened version)
Session 2: What is success?
  • Ayyappa Paniker, "Horse Play" (Poem)
  • Sandra Cisneros “Eleven”
Session 3: What is resilience?
  • J.K. Rowling "The Fringe Benefits of Failure"
  • “An Unlucky Man?” A Tale from Nigeria
 
7th grade: Commitment and Community
Session 1: What is our nature?
  • Intro, Painting (Icarus)
  • Mencius, On Human Nature (short excerpt)
Session 2: What do we commit to?
  • “Story of Fire” A Sufi Tale
  • George Orwell “Shooting an Elephant”
Session 3: How do we live together?
  • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (on Friendship)
  • Luther Standing Bear, “Indian Wisdom”
 
8th grade: Courage and Purpose
Session 1: What is our nature?
  • Intro, Painting (Icarus)
  • Chuang Tzu, “Woodcarver”
Session 2: What gives us Purpose?
  • “Seneca: On the Shortness of Life” Translated by John W. Basore
  • Chimamanda Adichie, “Danger of a Single Story”
Session 3: What gives us Courage?
  • “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Constantine P. Cavafy, “Ithaca” (poem)
 
 
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Boulder Country Day School    4820 Nautilus Court North • Boulder, Colorado 80301 • Phone - 303.527.4931 • After-hours x229 • info@bouldercountryday.org
Boulder Country Day School, where academic distinction meets education with character. BCD is a top rated, accredited private school in Boulder, Colorado where every child has the opportunity to discover his or her own unique excellence. Distinguished by small class sizes, outstanding faculty, engaging academics and a focus on community, our preschool, elementary and IB middle school teachers strive to create a well-rounded educational environment that balances traditional subjects with the arts, world languages, athletics and project-based learning.

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