Listening is hard work, and incredibly powerful. To help us harness the power of listening as an agent for change and community building, Berkshire chose the book Walking to Listen: 4,000 Miles Across America, One Story at a Time by Andrew Forsthoefel as its 2017 All-School Read.
The book tells the story of the young author’s journey walking across the United States and the many people he met along the way. After graduating from Middlebury College in 2011, Forsthoefel was ready to begin his adult life, but he didn’t quite know how. So he decided to embark on a trek across country, one where everyone he met would be his guide. Part epic journey, part study in human relationships and connectivity, Walking to Listen is ultimately about the transformative power of listening and a portrait of our nation in the 21st century.
The ASR kick-off event incorporated hands-on, experiential learning into the program. During his visit, Forsthoefel asked students to embark on their own walking and listening journey on campus. Students were given journals and encouraged to reflect on a personal question, either in conversation with others or on their own, and then recorded those thoughts and experiences.
“It was wonderful to see students and faculty out across campus, each absorbed in the connective power of listening,” said Head of School Pieter Mulder. “We're grateful to Andrew Forsthoefel for giving us permission to slow down and reflect, and to authentically engage with others around us, a powerful step toward building our strongest sense of community.”
In his evening address, Forsthoefel explained, “Listening has the potential to be a gateway into a totally different world. When I am truly listening, there is nothing else but you who I am listening to, nowhere else to be, and nothing more important.” The following morning, Forsthoefel met with classes and with students one-on-one to share stories and advice.
The theme of listening, the tradition of storytelling and its impact on history, and the importance of the pilgrimage to cultures outside of the United States, are themes that have been woven through the English, history, and language curricula. They will continue to reverberate throughout the year in classrooms and advisory meetings as our students practice becoming exceptional listeners, and, in turn, invaluable members of this community and the ones they will enter as adults.
The practice of listening is a function on the spiritual path, a tool for social justice, and a cohesive agent for the building of a better world, inside and out. Andrew Forsthoefel