Debate Magazine

“Miracle School”

By Stevemiranda

For the rest of April, this space will be used to support a fundraiser for PSCS. The stories here will be posted in the same spirit of generating conversation about changing the way we think about school, but will be explicitly in service to raising money for the school. If this is no problem for you, great! If you’d rather just check back here after 10 days, that’s great too.

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Today’s story comes from a PSCS mom whose daughter is having a transformative experience in her first year in the school. She writes,

I was listening to my daughter the other day having a phone conversation with a classmate from a school she attended last year, and had the chance to hear her talk about the best time she is having this year at Puget Sound Community School. She went on and on talking about all the “awesome” classes she was taking, from Tea tasting to Noodle Science, to how great her teachers are, and to how great her classmates are.

Listening in on this conversation made me think of last year when she was in a more traditional school and she was miserable. When I say miserable I mean miserable! As I looked for middle schools for my daughter last year, I wasn’t sure if I would ever find the right school for her. She is very smart and creative but hates sitting behind a desk memorizing. Knowing this is how kids are expected to learn this day and age, I didn’t think I would ever find a school to match her needs.

I was at my wit’s end looking and visiting numerous schools when a friend called me and told me about PSCS. Initially I was concerned with the size. Will she have friends her age? Will she be rejected by the older students? And what are these Dancing Spaghetti and Tea tasting classes they are teaching? I also thought about our school visit. Were the teachers really as friendly as they came across? Were the students really as happy as they looked? Was this really the miracle school that it appeared? The first week she came home beaming and happy. But ultimately we knew that time would be the test. It was Winter break that I realized this happiness was real. She wished she were in school the entire break.

I began to understand that the Tea tasting was not just sitting around drinking tea, but was a Geography, History and Social studies class; Dancing Spaghetti was a science class made much more interesting. And as I got to know the teachers, I have been just so amazed that they all are so gifted with individual talents and their talents are so contagious to the students. And now, three quarters of the way through the year, Margaret still beams when she talks about school. She has made friends with students of all ages, and yes, the staff is still as friendly and happy as they were on that visitation day. I can now honestly say that, for my daughter, it is a miracle school!

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I’ve heard versions of this story from countless different people. Folks talk to me about the “magic of PSCS” as if the program is something that can’t be explained. But PSCS founder Andy Smallman sums it up succinctly: “It’s the most natural thing.”

Our program helps kids become more of who they already are, instead of trying to turn them into something they’re not. We support kids in finding out what they love to do, then help them take that passion and DO something with it. I had a conversation with a friend recently who said, “Schools need to make learning fun.” This is like saying, “We need to figure out how to make ice cream taste good.” Learning is the most fun thing in the world! It’s the triumph of the industrial schooling model—which as taken the joy of learning and buried it under a pile of grades, arbitrary deadlines, and required classes—that has allowed this phrase to even enter the conversation.

I want you to watch something. It’s part of a talk given by a guy from Chicago named Dr. Tae, aka “the skateboarding physics professor.” It’s a four-minute excerpt from an extraordinary 30-minute video in which he explains a new way of looking at learning. I’m sharing it here because his philosophy is aligned with the work that PSCS teachers are doing every. I really think you’re going to like this.

Isn’t that fascinating?

We have to do better. The schools we have created do not serve families in the way they should, and we’re not going to fix them by working at the margins. And it’s not going to take miracles or magic. We’re going to change the world by spreading the idea that our assumptions about learning are flawed, and that if we listen to behavioral scientists—and our own stories—we know there is a better way. We’re going to change the world because people like you and me are going to decide that it matters.

Now, we dedicate ourselves to building something new and beautiful.

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