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Program speaks to students

Ryan Graff

The brochure for Tomorrow’s Voices seems pretty presumptuous.It is red and white, and American flags, images of Mount Rushmore and the Statue of Liberty provide a backdrop for grandiose quotes from high school students.”I will no longer be resigned to shrug when asked about capital punishment. I will no longer be allowed to say ‘I don’t know’ when asked about foreign policy. And I will never give a dismissive wave to my world in which I live,” reads one. Another: “The environment in which we grow up noticeably influences people, like us, the youth, that consider violence and war normal. The therapy is simple: come back to human values to live an honorable life.” That’s pretty big thinking for high school students. The quotes, however, reflect just exactly what students in the Roaring Fork Valley learn in Tomorrow’s Voices, an educational nonprofit that provides an after-hours class to juniors and seniors. On Monday evening the class met at Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale. The students were finishing speeches on last semester’s topic: U.S. political policy, both foreign and domestic.One by one, the students took a desk facing their peers and spoke about everything from media bias, to feeling duty-bound to “dislike” Arabs because of Sept. 11, to how faith plays in social interaction. “I, being an extremely patriotic American, thought it was my duty to dislike anyone from the Middle East (following Sept. 11),” said Roaring Fork senior Leah Raaflaub. “It was just what they had done to us,” she said. “They bombed us, they killed our people.”All of that was true, she said, but she changed her position slightly after she saw newspaper articles from the an Arab point of view in Tomorrow’s Voices last semester. Raaflaub didn’t give up her patriotism, but she said she does have a new outlook, which “makes me more committed to being open-minded,” she said.At first glance, the class could be mistaken for an opportunity to indoctrinate students with liberal ideas. After all, the first semester had a focus on foreign policy, and the second semester is devoted to the environment, with one speaker referring to baby boomers as “ethical retards.”The goal of the class, however, is just the opposite, said instructors A.O. Forbes and Willard Clapper, who founded the program together four years ago. “I am painstakingly careful not to tell them what I think,” said Forbes, who teaches political geography at Colorado Rocky Mountain School.The class goes further than just withholding opinion. Last semester, for example, students saw a video on the death penalty, by the end of which most students were in favor of executing a man who committed a series of crimes. The next video in the series, however, swung the students toward saving a criminal’s life, Forbes said.In fact, debate and argument in class come from all angles and both sides of the political spectrum. Yuridia Escontrias and Ian Roeber, both Roaring Fork seniors, spoke about a how strong belief in God helped them make choices. When Roeber mentioned that his faith stereotypes him as being open-minded and accepting of everyone, one student countered with: “You said most of your decisions are faith-based. Does that make you more judgmental?” The student, a strong believer herself, said she sometimes judged others based on faith. Getting the students to think is only one part of the class. Instructors also want to “get them to take an ethical stand, then get them to act on it,” said Clapper, who is a retired Aspen middle school teacher. One requirement of the class is that students perform some sort of civic duty, whether it’s mentioning kids, community service projects, making a video or disc jockeying a radio show, which two students are doing this semester. For their work, students earn high school credits toward graduation, and college credits from the University of Colorado. Tomorrow’s Voices is more than just a class. The nonprofit provides training for teachers who want to add ethics and civic to their coursework. It also consults, and it helped Roaring Fork School District Re-1 organize a precollegiate program for Latino students. The program’s mainstay, however, remains its Monday evening class. “I owe the government my opinion, I owe the homeless man my warmth, and I owe nature my protection,” a student said on the not-so-presumptuous Tomorrow’s Voices brochure. “I now acknowledge that I have a voice and I have hope.”Contact Ryan Graff: 945-8515, ext. 520rgraff@postindependent.com


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