Debate Magazine

A Hidden Wholeness, Part 2

By Stevemiranda

Yesterday I wrote that, when thinking about transforming our schools, we need to change our perspective: instead of viewing school as being primarily about academic content delivery, we should be looking at it through the lens of human development.

That means avoiding the “divided life,” Parker Palmer’s phrase for when your true self—your whole self—is out of alignment with your actions. An example of the divided life in school is when a student forges a note from a parent so they can skip out on a class they dislike. This is a corrosive situation, not simply because the student skipped class, but because the person’s actions lack integrity. These acts, performed enough times, become the habits that lead to a divided life.

Here’s an example of how to re-imagine this in a way that nurtures students along the path toward wholeness:

At PSCS, we don’t have specific academic requirements for students; we do, however, have community requirements. What students do on campus is, for the most part, up to them—provided they engage as respectful members of the community.

We track attendance through something we call “community hours.” There are approximately 1144 hours in a school year. In order to remain a student in good standing, students must be present in school for 1,000 of those hours. The other 144 hours are called “offsite time.”

If students want to go off campus for lunch, that’s offsite time. If they’re feeling burned out from too much work and need a day to rest, that’s offsite time. If they get sick and miss a week of school, that’s offsite.

A computer program tracks all this data, so students know exactly how much offsite time they have available at any given moment.

The best part about all this is that everything is explicit. Everything is transparent. No need to forge a doctor’s note or an excuse letter from your parents. If students want to go skiing instead of coming to school one day, that’s perfectly fine. We only ask that students tell us when they’ll be gone and, when appropriate, where they’ll be.

One very important outcome of this is that students learn the important skill of time management. Sometimes early in the school year, students will see 144 hours and think those hours will last forever; they can go skiing whenever they want! The hard lesson comes in the springtime, when there are six weeks left in the school year and they’re down to just 17 offsite hours . . . and then they get the flu.

Students get real practice at making decisions and dealing with the consequences of those decisions. The only way to learn how to be responsible is by being given the chance to make mistakes, and then reflect on what happened.

The most important lesson, of course, is in living a life of integrity. I have talked to many parents who coach their kids through traditional schooling by encouraging them to “play the game.” That means if you don’t like a teacher, find out what they want as a means of staying on their good side. If Stanford requires a 4.0 GPA, then just do whatever it takes to get all A’s. If an assignment is boring or meaningless, figure out a shortcut to just get it done.

I understand where the parents are coming from but I think, in the long run, that’s bad advice. To help kids develop into whole human beings means helping them align their actions with their soul.

(Tomorrow, I’ll write more on developing wholeness with a specific explanation for how PSCS students can gain community hours even if they’re not in school, through independent study.)

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