The Academy at the Worldwide Conference on Human Values


THE SEVENTH ANNUAL WORLDWIDE MEETING on human values promised to be like no other conference I had attended. It was not about education or professional concerns, but about being human. It was not taking place in a hotel in Albuquerque or Des Moines, but in the heart of Monterrey, Mexico. And the impressive list of keynote speakers included former prime ministers, internationally known actors, theologians, business leaders—and our very own Aaron Stern.

Leading up to the conference, Aaron met with the faculty and staff of the Academy to share his thoughts. He was very honored to be speaking—the live audience would number a few thousand, and as many as 100,000 people would be following via live stream. But he wasn’t quite sure how to approach the topic. “Human values?” he asked us. “What other kinds of values are there?”

What he did know is that he wanted to facilitate a few dozen of the participants in an experiential learning workshop following his keynote, and he was inviting a few of us to come along and help. We asked what he had in mind.

“The Impulse Exercise,” he said. “Bring the blindfolds!”

The Impulse Exercise, which invites people into a deep, somatic experience of their beliefs about teaching and learning, is powerful. Aaron created it almost three decades ago, and since then it has become a hallmark experience of Academy programs like Teacher Renewal and Leading By Being. The exercise can elicit childhood memories and surprising personal insights. For me, when I have engaged as a participant, it has brought up anger and joy, and one occasion, heavy grief about my own experiences teaching in the public schools. The idea of bringing such an experience to another country, into a conference and a culture none of us knew well, was risky.

It was also classic Aaron Stern. Without crossing ethical lines, and always giving people the choice of opting out, Aaron never shies away from inviting people into contact with what lies inside them. The Meeting on Human Values would be no exception. In late October, a small team of us packed up the blindfolds—enough for 100 people, just in case—and boarded our flights for Monterrey.

[NEXT INSTALLMENT: Aaron’s Story on Stage]