A mountain to die on

“Maxed Out on Everest”

Memorial for Sixteen Sherpa Victims of Avalanche

As one who lives and works at 1300 meters, I cannot help but relate our mountain environment to our profession of teaching and learning.

The obvious ones are “reaching the summit” and “setting goals” which are quoted often to our mostly sea-level student body.

I recently had a conversation with a world famous mountaineer and friend, John Harlin III (www.johnharlin.net), who told me only days before the tragic avalanche that killed 16 sherpas, that Everest was becoming a much more dangerous place due to its paradoxical accessibility and attraction for tourism.

He quoted a climber friend of his, Mark Jenkins, (see article above) who said that he had “summited Everest but not climbed it.” And then when the tragic event took place, it made me think about how this attitude of “summiting” completely undermined the process of climbing and how that could relate to education. Yes, this leads to more cliches around “the journey not the destination.” I will resist going into that pool and wasting your time.

The mountain I think is worth dying on is the cultural one as it relates to international schools. That’s the story of climbing versus summiting. That’s what separates international schools from everyone else. That’s why international schools matter so much.

The Sherpas.

How many of us in our busy international school “pods” completely forget what is outside our gates? In fact, for many of us we even forget what is inside them. Just yesterday, I was passing by the apartment of one of our Serbian support staff whose daughter was keeping an eye on my daughter. I wanted to rush in, get my daughter, and leave to attend to the day’s chores. I was summiting. Instead, she called me in, made me sit down with her family who all work at our school, and enjoy some delicious food and drink at their table. Over thirty minutes passed before I left. They made me climb. It disrupted my afternoon but it didn’t matter. I was living our mission statement. The summit didn’t matter as much.

I wonder how well the climbers who had hired the Sherpas on that fateful day knew them, talked to them, learned from them? Maybe they wouldn’t have gone. Maybe they would have. But I would bet that the focus may have turned to the climb rather than the summit.

How many of us are so focused on IB exams, admissions numbers, internal politics, and budgets that we completely forget to live the part of our mission statements that is supposed to mean the most? How many of us forget who is carrying the load so that we can complete the journey? Can you see the parallels between the corporatization of Everest and the corporatization of our schools? Where are the cultures that comprise our community and what is our connection to them? Who is profiting and who is not? And most importantly, what are we learning from this?

That’s a mountain worth dying on.

About Stephen Dexter, Jr.

Stephen is an international educator and administrator. A native of the United States, he lives with his wife Stephanie (a specialist in families in global transition) in Croatia along with his daughter and son. With a career that spans over twenty years in public, private and international schools, he writes when he can and is on a quest to discover if "text walking" is changing the human brain.
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One Response to A mountain to die on

  1. Cindy Nagrath says:

    This is a beautiful piece. You raise such an excellent point and in the process have enlightened readers about the mess on Mt. Everest. I read the Nat’l Geo article that you linked and had no idea about the crowding and waste on top of one of earth’s greatest treasures. You rightly draw the parallel between our mad rush to the finish line, and our inability to see the waste we leave in our wake, or the people who inadvertently get trampled on in the process.

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