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AISL Summer Institute | All-School Reads: ASR Programs at Berkshire

This guide is designed to help you design and implement an All-School Read program at your school.

The 2016 All-School Read focused on race in America through the lens of Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The powerful book had received national attention when it was published the previous fall and was that year’s winner of the National Book Award for Nonfiction. Coates is a national correspondent for The Atlantic, where he writes about social issues and politics and is perhaps best known for his influential writing on race in America.

Between the World and Me is Coates’s book-length essay told in the form of a letter to his teenaged son. Eloquent and thought-provoking, it covers topics ranging from the Civil War through the Civil Rights movement to recent violence that has been all too prevalent in contemporary society. The book supports Berkshire’s commitment to diversity, a tenant of Berkshire’s mission, as we seek to cultivate a variety of thought, backgrounds and perspectives to enrich our community.

To complement this read, Berkshire invited comedian and political satirist W. Kamau Bell to campus to deliver his solo show “The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About an Hour.” Host of CNN’s Emmy-nominated show United Shades of America, Bell uses comedy to elicit “uncomfortable” but necessary conversations about race and racism and how our differences unite and divide us. “You don’t end racism by asking people to explain their existence to you,” said Bell. “You can end racism by just being respectful to everyone else’s existence.”

Following his performance, Bell answered questions from students and faculty and later visited classes where faculty led small group discussions. The theme of race in America ran throughout the year with the book’s integration into both the English and history curricula as well as through further programming. Related events included a performance of Defamation, a courtroom drama involving the issues of religion, gender, class and race where the audience becomes the jury and Of Ebony Embers: Vignettes of the Harlem Renaissance, a musical theater production celebrating the lives of the great literary figures of 1920s and ’30s New York, among others.

Bell’s humorous approach to an often difficult topic proved an effective springboard into meaningful and important conversations on campus which reverberated throughout the year and will continue to do so hopefully well beyond our students’ time at Berkshire.

“You don’t end racism by asking people to explain their existence to you.
You can end racism by just being respectful to everyone else’s existence.”
–W. Kamau Bell

With rising global temperatures and climate change as a backdrop, the 2015 All-School Read committee selected Bill McKibben’s Oil and HoneyThe Education of an Unlikely Activist to support our commitment to environmental stewardship, one of the tenants of the Berkshire School mission.

In his autobiographical book, renowned environmentalist Bill McKibben intertwines his personal story with the global fight to build and preserve a sustainable planet. During his visit to Berkshire, McKibben made a compelling case for a renewed commitment to small-scale local answers and solutions on a global level. This year’s program provided a powerful look into current climate issues—be it during the keynote address by McKibben or the ongoing work in our academic classes. In September, the School hosted three distinguished environmentalists from our alumni body for an afternoon discussion on climate change and environmental stewardship. The panel was moderated by Kathy Orlando ’89 and included Ned Sullivan ’72 and Lindsey Fielder Cook ’81 along with Bill McKibben. With its focus on communal awareness and activity, the panel gave students both a background in the environmental movement as well as information about some of the actions that they could take to help make a difference. Students asked many questions, revealing their deep interest in, and concern about climate change and what they can do about it.

Themes from Oil & Honey were incorporated throughout the year across disciplines. As part of an ongoing environmental lecture series complementing the All-School Read, students in sustainability and environmental classes discussed topics ranging from the effects of climate change on the local environment to divestment and its practicality at an institutional level. The Advanced Math/Science Research class explored Colony Collapse Disorder Virus, while biology classes studied bee ecology. Students in English classes used the teachings of Henry David Thoreau to help make sense of the relationships between man, society and nature.

From Ned Sullivan’s work restoring the Hudson River Valley to Kathy Orlando’s dedication to preserving our own backyard through the Sheffield Land Trust to Lindsey Fielder Cook, who combats climate change through a civil justice lens in her work with the Quaker United Nations Office in Bonn, Germany, this year’s program empowered our students to become involved and understand the impact that one person, one story can actually have.

“There is now an increasing number of people, entrepreneurs, and innovators who are working in the right direction on these things; it’s not hopeless.”

—Bill McKibben
All-School Meeting

The All-School Read committee selected I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban for 2014. Of course, Malala's story is inspirational on its own, but this story also powerfully shows what one young woman can accomplish.

The story and its setting also allowed Berkshire to build a rich program—far beyond a single speaker—through alumni who had deep connections to the subject. We assembled a group of panelists who could provide personal and historical context for Malala’s story: alumni Mati Amin '08 and Don Goodrich '61, heavily invested in women’s education throughout Afghanistan, shared engrossing experiences. We also invited Shabana Basij-Rasikh (sister of Mustafa Basij-Rasikh ’08), the managing director of SOLA, School of Leadership, Afghanistan, a nonprofit organization helping young Afghan women access education and professional opportunities to share her own thoughts about the wide-reaching ramifications of Malala’s story. Capping off the program was a keynote speech by Shiza Shahid, an entrepreneur and social innovator of Pakistani origin who helped establish the Malala Fund.

The impact of Malala’s story on our campus was not limited to just two days in September. Over the course of the year, faculty and students explored issues immerging from the book: violence against women, education of women, global feminism, and religious controversy, to name a few. To further this discussion, a partnership was formed between Berkshire faculty and The George Washington University’s Global Women’s Institute to pilot the I am Malala curriculum guide. The work with Malala moved beyond the Mountain, as well. For their exceptional submissions to the All-School Read contest, Ifunanyachi Achara ’17, Gwynne Domashinski ’16, Sarah Kinney ’15 and Kelly Maurer ’18 were selected to attend a ceremony in Philadelphia, where Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai accepted the Liberty Medal from the National Constitutional Center. Reflecting on his ASR experience, Achara said, “When I saw Malala receive the Liberty Medal and all the young people on the panel, I realized that age has nothing to do with greatness.”

This year’s All-School Read provided a powerful message about opportunity, risk-taking and service, and allowed the community to learn about a culture that is battling war and fanaticism in hopes of finding equality.

“Culture is always changing, always evolving. Not just Afghan culture but here in the U.S. as well. There is always room for change.”

—Shabana Basij-Rasikh
All-School Meeting

With the theme of community at the center of the school year, Tracy Kidder’s Strength in What Remains: A Journey of Remembrance and Forgiveness was selected as Berkshire’s inaugural All-School Read text. The subject of Kidder’s work, Deo Niyizonkiza—a Burundian genocide-survivor and founder and eventual CEO of a free medical clinic—provided the School with an inspiring story of one man’s American Journey, a story about second chances and the value of community. As a culminating event, Deo, as he quickly became known in our community, spent two days under the Mountain.

From students working to understand the biological and environmental working of infectious diseases, to reflecting on and interpreting Deo’s story, the School eagerly prepared for Deo’s arrival. And Deo’s impact on the community was immediate. A private lunch with ASR contest winners, Amir Ghani ’17, Gwynne Domashinski ’16, Tanner Tomasi ’14, and overall winner, Sarah Kinney ’15, proved inspirational not only for the students, but for Deo as well. Deo’s address to the community encouraged each of us to be proud of our individual stories and to know that we, no matter our circumstances, can find meaning through service to others. The evening panel discussion on the importance of community in developing African nations included Education Development Center curriculum developer, Beth Miller-Pittman and associate bioethics professor, Dr. Sean Philpott-Jones, and was moderated by Berkshire’s Dr. April Burch.

To end his stay, Deo visited with classes, where he discussed topics spanning from faith in spite of terrible adversity to the astonishing circumstances endured by Burundian children. He also sat down with Sarah Kinney to reflect on his time on campus and on the inspiration for Sarah’s contest-winning entry: an introspective stop-motion film based on Deo’s story. It was in the informal conversations that we felt the true impact of Deo’s time at Berkshire. As a result, students launched an ambitious year-long initiative led by the Philanthropy Society to raise funds to build a classroom for Village Health Works.

“All the women came in singing with bricks on their heads, and all the men came in working on the road from the highway to the plateau, a place that has never known a road in the history of that country. It all had to do with just one question: What can we do together?”

— Deogratias Niyizonkiza
All-School Meeting