Capitalism, Communism, Cooking, and Conflict

Alzar School | 11.03.13

¡Les saludamos de la tierra fértil de Chile!

The last couple weeks have consistently required students to practice flexibility and patience as we navigate power outages and changing plans. One thing that has not wavered has been the level of thoughtfulness that students have brought to class. I’ll start with the collaborative class that Ellie and I taught last Saturday. (We have dubbed our joint efforts Spumaniteam in honor of the Spanish and Humanities intersection.) Fundamentally we set out to answer the question of how we interpret the world, questioning the truth of perceptual experiences as simple as tasting peanut butter. (Students enjoyed the chance to sample a familiar staple in the meantime.) With this creative and critical thinking in mind, I have been asking students in history to build off their “What if?” essays to continue to think critically about the world around them. In World History we read two formative and contrasting texts (Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations and Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto) and analyzed and debated them. The thoughtfulness with which Caroline, Isabelle, and Dezáray approached the questions of how to shape society and economics made me very hopeful for when the three of them take over the world, with Francisca’s help, of course. While exploring these fundamental economic texts and theories, students also enjoyed the chance to participate in a simulated stock market, and you all will be thrilled to know that they are all in the green! Still, we want to see some more lasting results before we shell out a real thousand dollars to each of them…

In US History we have continued to transition from the Progressive Era to the Republican resurgence that followed, which affords us interesting modern parallels. As we examine the period from the 1960s to the 1980s toward the end of the semester, students will be able to draw on conclusions they began developing in the past couple classes. Another highlight of the past couple weeks arrived in the form of a Federal Reserve simulation, as the Federal Reserve was established during the time period we are studying. In order to appreciate the benefits and challenges of a more integrated and federally regulated system, students acted as a collective chairman, determining the federal funds rate. After their first round, in which they sent the United States into a dizzying deflationary spiral, students settled in and maintained a healthy balance between inflation and unemployment that promoted consumer spending and economic growth. As we finish up this unit, I am encouraging students to examine how their personal philosophies intersect with the trajectory of the United States during this time period. I would consider our country exceedingly lucky to have one of our students as a politician someday.

In Spanish, fittingly, we have transitioned into the subjunctive tense, for which no true equivalent exists in English, that we use to express emotions and uncertainty. As you might imagine, we’re not in short supply of either of those at this point in our expedition. As we watch our time dry up on us down in Chile, we have shifted from cooking to camping in terms of the vocabulary and the activities we are studying. Folks really seemed to enjoy the chance to create their own cooking shows, which showcased their culinary prowess. (Now they have no excuses for not preparing meals for their families over our rapidly approaching spring break…) Feel free to follow this link ( for a sample of what folks whipped up!

My students remind me daily of how lucky I am to work with such gifted young adults. They illustrate compassion and creativity; they prove themselves to be unencumbered by things like party platforms or political prejudices. They are willing to try new languages, to defend unfamiliar opinions. They are open to experimenting with new recipes with ingredients they have never heard of, and if that means wiping a little pancake batter (or was it mashed potatoes?) from the stovetop then I’m fine with that. They are discovering, as our partnership this weekend doing some beach cleanup work and kayaking instruction attests, that learning opportunities don’t just refer to moments spent in classrooms, even as worldly as ours are. I am superlatively proud of the thoughtful and compassionate leaders who are investing in themselves at Alzar School.