Debate Magazine

Don’t Students Need Someone to Push Them?

By Stevemiranda

I was chatting with a friend today about the school where I work, PSCS. We do not require students to tackle a prescribed academic program.

“Without someone pushing them, they’ll just take the easy route,” he said. “Don’t students need someone to push them?”

Well, yes. Sort of.

* * *

When I played high school basketball, the coach would end practice by yelling, “Everybody on the line!” That meant we had to line up along the baseline and get ready to run wind sprints until our lungs fell out. We needed him to push us, because we couldn’t have done that by ourselves.

But no one pushed me into the gym in the first place. I walked into the gym voluntarily. By doing so, I gave my coach tacit permission to push me. That was the deal, and we both knew it.

But my greatest improvement as a basketball player didn’t come from the coaching pushing me. It came from getting up early in the morning, grabbing my ball, and bouncing it all the way to the park, where I would run myself through a series of shooting and dribbling drills. Day after day. Week after week. My greatest improvement as a player happened because I had acquired the skill of pushing myself.

We’re so committed to this principle at PSCS that, last year, two teachers co-facilitated a class called “Push Yourself.” The goal was to help students practice setting ambitious goals and reaching them—not because the teacher forced them, but as a strategy for learning self-discipline and self-direction.

* * *

Last year, a PSCS senior spent as much time as he possibly could honing his skills as a heavy metal drummer. No one needed to push him to play the drums; he played incessantly because he loved doing it. Upon graduation, he said he was delaying applying to music school because he wanted to spend a year becoming a more well-rounded musician. He wanted to develop his chops in jazz drumming, rock and roll, and classical. His goal was to eventually move to L.A. and become a studio musician; to do that, he needed to be well-rounded.

I believe he had this level of maturity because no had pushed him. No one said to him, while he was enjoying the thrill of heavy metal drumming, “You better put that away and start learning how to be a jazz drummer.” Because he owned the learning process, he was able to clearly self-assess his own skills and limitations. He had developed self-discipline and self-direction, qualities that he’ll carry with him for the rest of his life.

Next year, when he heads off to college, he’ll know that his greatest development as a musician happened because he had acquired the skill of pushing himself.

And when he’s ready to achieve a level of skill that he just can’t achieve on his own, he’ll be able to walk into the music studio—voluntarily—and tell his professor: I’m ready for you to push me.

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