TASIS is an acronym, always capitalized in print. As many people know, it stands for The American School in Switzerland. Mrs. M. Crist Fleming founded that flagship school in 1956, as a single mother in a foreign country. The school opened with 12 students, three of whom were her own children.
Subsequent schools founded by Mrs. Fleming and the TASIS Foundation, often assisted by TASIS Portugal Chairman of the Board Fernando Gonzalez, have gone by the same name: TASIS Greece, TASIS France, TASIS Cyprus, TASIS England, TASIS Dorado (Puerto Rico), and finally, TASIS Portugal.
Because "American" is in our name, I am frequently asked, what makes TASIS an American school? That is a loaded question, and I hope I can shine some light on the answer.
(First, in the spirit of full disclosure, I am not American. I am a Canadian married to an American; I sent one of my children to America for university; and I’ve spent quite a bit of time in America.)
All the TASIS schools were founded in Europe (except for TASIS Dorado). The curriculum used at TASIS schools has components that are American, British, and European. The choice of second and third languages are European languages at most schools. At TASIS Portugal, we have a number of European teachers (although more than a third of our staff is American).
Mrs. Fleming founded the school in Switzerland because she was a visionary who loved Western civilization, European art and culture, languages, and travel. Although the students who populated her early school were almost exclusively American, TASIS schools now enroll students from nearly every country on the planet.
But seriously, what about TASIS is American? Perhaps we should begin with why Mrs. Fleming founded the first American boarding school in Europe. She believed in internationalism – she was convinced that if young people around the globe had the opportunity to live, work, and play together, the world would be much better and much safer place.
I go back to the words of our founder, written in a 2003 yearbook: "The reason I founded the TASIS schools was my belief that our best hope of defeating chaos was through good education. I hope that TASIS has helped you to become the kind of strong, skilled, healthy, open-minded, wise, and committed citizen the world needs so desperately." Mrs. Fleming had lived through both World Wars and understood that respect for and tolerance of other cultures was important for both young people and the globe.
She fell in love with Switzerland and founded TASIS there. She commented, "I had this dream of starting something that was outside and beyond the narrow frontiers that countries draw around themselves. I was really aiming at an international school. And in Switzerland, a democratic country with international traditions going back 700 years, I found what I was looking for."
Mrs. Fleming believed education is a service and that we were put on this earth to make a contribution...to try to leave it a little better than we found it. She believed in freedom of speech, the ideals of democracy, citizenship, manners, respect, tolerance, and equality. And culture – all cultures. While this ideal is not unique to America, these were some of the foundational pillars of the American republic. They are as important now as they have ever been. These core beliefs, along with a spirit of invention, entrepreneurship, and the concept that anything is possible, encapsulates why TASIS is an American school. And perhaps why today, it is also not an American school.
In Mrs. Fleming's famous words, she was not interested in creating international schools, but “international human beings."