I’m so looking forward to our time together, both in Bolivia and as we connect before and after our trip. My name is Mark Heath and I am a teacher, dorm parent, and Class Dean at Milton Academy in Massachusetts. As a faculty member in the History and Social Sciences department, I teach all of our government and economics electives. Notable for this trip is my course called the Economics of Sustainable Development. In this class, we use Jeffrey Sach’s text “The Age of Sustainable Development” to explore how twenty-first century economic development must also be socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable. So while I am not the most knowledgeable on the science behind climate change and environmentalism (and I hope to learn more about this from you all) I am very excited to connect with IGOs and NGOs in Bolivia and see firsthand the structural and procedural aspects of Global Economics at play.
As I prepared for this post and read Pico Iyer’s (2000) “Why We Travel” I admired his romantic and lustful experiences from afar. I haven’t traveled internationally much in my life – the most formative experience was a 10-week study abroad in Barcelona, Spain. So, to be frank, I haven’t had as many experiences being fully thrust from my comfort zone. And yet, that is why I find this summer opportunity to be so exciting. And why I was completely mesmerized by the beautiful imagery and poetic language in Iyer’s (2000) writing. There was, however, one quotation that stood out to me as a social scientist. Towards the beginning of his piece, when talking about what we gain from traveling and being in a completely foreign environment, Iyer (2000) states:
“Travel is the best way we have of rescuing the humanity of places, and saving them from abstraction and ideology.”
In my class, Economics of Sustainable Development, students spend the semester applying their theoretical learning to a chosen case study: a “least developed country.” They spend time analyzing various data points and metrics in the hopes of offering policy proposals for more sustainable development. And each time I have taught this course, there is a little nagging inside. A discomfort. A fear of inauthenticity and with inauthenticity, injustice. That these are voyeuristic tendencies that come with examining the world through computer screen in an air-conditioned boarding school classroom.
And so, I see travel, and the potential to create an immersive experiential learning experience for my students, as a way to (as Iyer posits) humanize these sustainable development case studies; that perhaps statistics in abstraction can’t possibly tell the whole story. And what’s more, that this experience can be a starting point, so students can continue on their lives knowing how to “fill in the gaps left by tomorrow’s headlines.”