Debate Magazine

Frisbee Swing

By Stevemiranda

A few weeks ago at PSCS, the staff and students took a walk to a nearby park. (There are 38 students in the school, so bringing the entire student body is not as big a challenge as it might sound.)

Some people started up a game of ultimate Frisbee, others played a game of tag on the play structure, and a few students went over to the swings. A staff member saw an opportunity. He picked up a Frisbee and invented a new game, Frisbee swing, which consists of throwing the disc to a student while she’s swinging in hopes that she’ll catch it.

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I took some students to a community center last week to play dodgeball. Before the game started, a student and I took turns trying to kick one of the dodgeballs over the basketball hoop and between two pillars on the wall, just like a field goal kicker in football. It was great fun. Then, we added a new element: the opposing player could try to block the kick. That made it even more fun.

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PSCS founder Andy Smallman is working on a new idea. He’s recruiting a small group of artists to come to campus for a screening of Elizabeth Gilbert’s extraordinary TED talk on a new way of thinking about the creative process. After the screening, the artists will sit in a circle and have a conversation about the TED talk, including a reflection of their own creative process. Students, meanwhile, will sit on the outside and listen to the dialog. When the moment is right, Andy will slide an empty chair into the circle to make room for any student who feels inspired to join in.

What’s going to happen with this? We won’t know until we try. But it’s all part of a culture in which we ask students to think in new ways, to consider unusual combinations, and to take risks by trying something that’s not proven to work.

One of the reasons kids generally hate traditional schooling is that it’s almost impossible for anything spontaneous or unpredictable to happen. The entire day—the entire year—is scripted.

Teachers prepare a lesson plan in advance; the students’ job is to show up and play their role in the script. If you go to PE class and start throwing a Frisbee to a friend who’s on a swing, you risk getting detention. (Or worse—you might get five points taken off your grade.)

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Traditional schooling is about the quest for the one right answer. It’s about following directions and fitting in. In the 20th century, you could argue that might have been a good strategy.

In the 21st century, there is usually no single right answer. There are complex problems that need to be solved, those problems are typically poorly defined and have many possible responses, each with a different set of pros and cons.

Here’s an example:

  • In the 20th century, the record labels controlled distribution. They found musical acts they could sell, cut deals with radio stations to get airplay, and made a pile of money.
  • In the 21st century, recording artists have their own distribution channels. People who buy records can steal pretty much any album they want. What’s the right response? Well, it’s not simple.

How about this one:

  • In the 20th century, selling consumer products was simply a matter building a factory, manufacturing a decent product, and buying a ton of TV ads.
  • In the 21st century, we’ve all seen too many ads and we know how to ignore them. And, there are a thousand other people trying to sell that same consumer product as you.  What’s the right response? It’s not simple.

There are countless examples like this, but here’s the point: schools are educating kids for the 20th century, where working hard and knowing the right answer was a surfire path to success.

But the 21st century is not that simple. Schools need to be educating kids to think in new ways, to create unexpected combinations, and—this is the really hard one—to have the guts to try things that might not work.

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