Learning Journeys: A Reflection on Experiential Education

Introduction to the 2022 Washington, DC Learning Journey

Shannon Kelly

During the last week of February, in preparation for our upcoming learning journey to Washington D.C. the two classes that I teach, Values in American Thought and Values in World thought, were combined. As I prepared the lesson plan, I realized that I needed to start at the beginning with my students; I needed to explore the “why” of the journey so that they could truly understand the expectations, goals, and in turn, make the choice to fully engage in the preparation and learning process.  

I decided to start class with two basic questions, “What is experiential learning?” and “Why do we use the term ‘Learning Journey’ at Mount Madonna School?” These questions are essential because their answers speak to the core values of Mount Madonna School, and in particular the Values program. When I take students to Washington, D.C., India or South Africa,  I am not taking them on an ordinary field trip, we are engaging in a purposeful and curricularly aligned learning journey. 

The goals of the Values program are to develop students’ capacity for self-awareness and to support an ongoing inquiry into the values that inform students’ actions and life purpose. As an educator, I do this in order to strengthen students’ ability to engage in positive and mutually beneficial relationships with each other and with our broader communities.

The archetypal hero’s journey consists of three parts: the preparation, the journey, and the return. The learning journey mirrors these stages concretely and abstractly. Students physically and intellectually embark on a journey. Their intellectual journey relies on their willingness to be curious, to be open to opportunities, and to not be afraid to take risks. It tests each person, challenges assumptions, and forces students to engage in perspective taking and critical thinking. 

We invite you to join us on this experiential journey of discovery through following the student blog writings and interview videos. We are excited to engage in dialogue with dynamic thought leaders, to explore their, and our own, moral matrices, to step outside our comfort zone, and to practice self-reflection.

Interview with Armstrong Wiggins and Leo Crippa of the Indian Law Resource Center

Cecily Kelly

“They call it the discovery of America, we call it the invasion of the Americas.”- Armstrong Wiggins

Interview via Zoom with Armstrong Wiggins and Leo Crippa

Our interview with Armstrong Wiggins and Leo Crippa opened my eyes to the vast array of injustices that Indigenous peoples face. Before this interview, and the research that it entailed, I was not aware that many countries do not legally recognize Indigenous groups and their collective rights. 

Armstrong and Leo are doing amazing work at the Indian Law Resource Center and their experiences are helping many people. Hearing Armstrong talk about his experience going to the 1977 United Nations conference in Geneva at age 18 was both inspiring and heartbreaking, because he talked about how alone he felt, and how he was willing to put himself out there to fight for his people. He was arrested twice after attending the conference, yet he continued his fight, and now over 40 years later he is still going. It was heartwarming to see how excited Armstrong and Leo  were that we are interested in the issues they work on, and how much they wanted to share with us. They have such a passion for what they do.  As a young person it was inspiring to see that we can make a difference in the world, and be passionate about what we do. One of my favorite parts of the interview was when someone asked Armstrong what inspires him, and his response was, ‘Watching people react to Leo, and watching Leo in general.’ Armstrong mentioned how he sees younger people looking up to Leo and saying they want to be like him, and learn so they can help the cause. I really enjoyed talking to these two amazing people, and hearing all of the knowledge that they had to offer.

Grace Timan

During the Leo and Armstong interview, the number one thing that stood out to me was the point regarding the importance of representation. It is integral that people see people that look like them in different roles and positions. Showing that anyone is capable of filling integral positions inspires and informs minorities of what we are capable of in this society. The story that Armstrong shared about playing a famous Mayan singer’s music for Mayan immigrants  was a perfect example of this in action.

Armstrong said that young people’s interest in the important issues they are working on at the Indian Law Resource Center is part of what keeps him going.

I have always been interested in going into social justice and law and this helped push my interest. I think this is something I want to pursue in the future.

Mariah Cohen

Something that I found interesting in this interview was how I was able to take what I learned from my AP U.S. Government and Politics course last semester to understand these men’s careers and what exactly they do. For example, Armstrong’s answer to our question about how they decide what cases to take on was all about setting a precedent, which I had studied, so I was able to internalize that answer and it made a lot of sense to me. 

I asked, ‘At Mount Madonna School, we recognize that our institution is on Indigenous land, specifically Popeloutchom and Ohlone. As students, how do we go beyond the superficial and simple step of land acknowledgment to actually fight for justice?’

Armstrong answered by bringing  up current events that I would not have necessarily thought of in this context. He compared the invasion of the Americas by the Europeans hundreds of years ago to the invasion of Ukraine by Russia happening as I write this. He then went on to talk about the discussion that needs to happen about the difference between individual and collective rights. He helped me understand on a deeper level just how hard their jobs are. Armstrong and Leo are working to fight for collective and individual rights, but many countries don’t even recognize or know what collective rights are. 

Ben Pearson

The work they have done is extremely inspirational. The fact that Armstrong has stayed dedicated to this cause for almost 50 years is incredible to me. Obviously it is a cause worth fighting for, but that level of dedication is still so impressive, especially with all the obstacles that stood in his way. 

One thing that he talked about that I thought was very important for people to hear was his message of opportunity. I love how he talked about young people. He spoke about how you really can be anything you want if you are presented with opportunity, and that pursuing opportunities that are true to oneself often result in connections. This connected to another thing that I took away from the interview which was the importance of traveling, especially for people like me who grew up in very isolated environments.  Traveling abroad, making connections, seeing new cultures, and having entirely different experiences, is crucial to living a full life.

 I wasn’t sure if I wanted to travel abroad in college, but now I know that I would like to leave the U.S. and see at least one other place that I have not been.