The Marvin Shagam Inititative for Ethics and Global Citizenship

Students attending one of the first classes for the Initiative (Photo Credit: Paiton Gleeson ’18)

The Marvin Shagam Initiative for Ethics and Global Citizenship, piloted by Mr. Jacobsen and Mr. Shagam, hopes to educate students about global affairs and foreign cultures.

The program has three elements: a speaker series, curricular development, and international student travel. The speaker series has already begun, with Dr. John Lenczowski CdeP 1967 coming to speak about global politics and the reality of world peace. The series will feature important speakers in order for students to be exposed to new ideas and systems of thought. The curriculum aspect of this initiative will have an emphasis on ethics and current global issues. Currently, this class is an X-block activity, but will be expanded to offer greater course selections. The third element of the initiative, global travel for students, will allow for Thacher students to travel to a foreign country. It will be most likely a developing one and students will have the opportunity to explore the political background of the country and then be able to see it as it is today. Thacher has partnered with Where There Be Dragons, an organization devoted to promoting international student travel. This partnership will allow for students to visit countries typically difficult to travel to.

The program is designed to promote a deliberate and intentional exposure to global issues and ethical behavior. It will aid in Thacher’s mission statement to educate “full global citizens.” It aims to raise the consciousness of students to global issues in preparation for the problems that will face this coming generation. It also hopes to instill a sense of right and wrong in order to shape the ethical behavior of students in the future. The program, as it develops further, will also have a major component of student leadership and mentorship from older students to younger students. There is no “ideal student” to participate, although younger students, who have more time both in their schedules and time left before leaving Thacher, are better suited for opportunities of future leadership.

The hopes of the eventual initiative are ambitious: to offer students a genuine experience, as well as an appreciation for international world travel.

Mr. Shagam shared his hopes in offering authenticity, saying, “It’s something more than taking students to Paris, for example, to sit in cafes all day. It is involving them in the culture of the country, meeting all kinds of interesting people, ordinary people.”

While some details may seem vague, Mr. Jacobsen made clear that this is intentionally so. This initiative will develop organically and with heavy student feedback, in a way that the ultimate program will be much different from the pilot program beginning now.

“We have to grow this program organically in line with what Thacher believes to develop deliberately. We can’t create something we can’t sustain. That seems too abstract.”

Several faculty members have committed to being a part of this initiative, including Mr. Hernandez, Mr. Okpalugo, Mr. Meyer, Mrs. Meyer, Mr. St. George, and Mr. Sullivan.

The program will also emphasize issues surrounding global sustainability as this issue has and will intersect with the political issues of our planet, and must be addressed in a global fashion. Mr. Meyer will work specifically on this initiative.

Ultimately, the institute hopes to integrate in much of the wisdom and experience of our community into the program, such as partnering with the United Cultures of Thacher club, or working with local Ojai people.

In talking about the program, Mr. Shagam and Mr. Jacobsen offered much sage wisdom they had garnered during their own travels.

Mr. Shagam has intensive world travel experience and credits much of his growth as a person to his travels. He described his time in Tanzania and offered that merely listening to people as opposed to imposing American culture and values up on them has a profound effect.

“There’s a difference between lecturing foreigners when we go abroad and their own experience coming to the US. People come here and see how our system works and it really changes people. I think they end up generally admiring that aspect of the United States.”

Mr. Shagam described his time spent traveling in Tanzania.

“I felt from the beginning that I should not bring too much [American] culture to Tanzania. I taught English there and made no apologies for that, but otherwise did not impress my culture onto them. I came to learn that because of my listening rather than talking, they asked me to stay another year and go to Zambia. And I accepted and resigned from the Thacher school, and I’m glad to say that Thacher said, ‘We will not accept your resignation. Maybe you’ll come back someday.’ I was lucky. It’s not a matter of ethnicity, this business of attitude. Many people feel that we’re so happy here, that we should bring our happiness to the rest of the world, but this is not the case.”

Mr. Jacobsen talked about his experiences in Cambodia and the importance of forgiveness.

“Cambodia had suffered a horrible genocide in the seventies and the country is in many ways emerging just now from the memory of that. I visited the sites of those genocidal acts and spoke with young people and older people that survived. I was surprised to hear that most people were not vindictive against those who participated in the genocide. You have to bury the animosity somewhere. If you sustain your hatred, it will probably result in more killing. So, there are those in the world who are willing to bury their guns, not look back so much as look forward. I was surprised to hear of the lack of bitterness and the energy they were willing to expend to look forward. That is almost-global thinking that is very ethical on a basic level, that death cannot bring back those that have been killed; that murder just brings more murder and exacerbates the original sins.”

Mr. Shagam expressed his hopes for students in the initiative.

“There can be a lot of hope and dare I say it, you know, to some small extent, that our students going to a place like Israel, for example, could bring about a better understanding in the rest of the world and maybe even to some extent in a place like Israel itself. I don’t want to exaggerate because it’s very difficult to change minds, but these students maybe could promote change.”

When I asked Mr. Shagam what his ultimate hopes were for the program, he responded candidly, “I hope my name doesn’t get dragged along with this program.”

 

Editor’s note: The name of the initiative is the Marvin Shagam Initiative for Ethics and Global Citizenship, not the Marvin Shagam Initiative for Ethics and Global Understanding, as previously written.