Debate Magazine

The Difference Between What You See and What You Don’t See

By Stevemiranda

In school, there are the things you see and the things you don’t see.

When a principal stands at the classroom door and looks in through the window, she might see a teacher standing at the front of the classroom. The students have 8.5 x 11 sheets of paper in front of them. They’re making eye contact with the teacher. On the white board, the teacher has written some equations or important dates in American history. She’s talking, and the students show every indication that they’re paying attention.

That’s why you see. And there’s nothing particularly wrong with that scene.

But it’s the things you don’t see that are having the greatest impact on the child.

What happens inside a student’s head—or more importantly, inside a student’s heart—when, day after day, week after week, year after year, they hear a similar refrain: “This assignment is worth 20 points.”

Or, “Where’s your hall pass?”

“What’s your class rank?”

“This will look good on your college application.”

And so on. What you see when walking around in a school may appear benign. Each individual snapshot may be completely fine. But the fundamental assumptions that drive our school programs add up to something that’s much different, much more nefarious, than merely the sum of their parts.

Schools are based on competition, on conformity, and on pleasing authority figures. They’re based on a future focus rather than an honoring of the present. The system of punishment and reward creates an environment that cultivates dishonest behavior.

These values, over time, shape students’ character. In subtle ways, this process affects their development as human beings. It’s not that one bad teacher will ruin a kid—that’s something that you can see. I’m referring to what you don’t see, the cumulative impact of what happens over time.

* * *

At PSCS, our program is grounded in the things you don’t see.

What happens inside a student’s head—or more importantly, inside a student’s heart—when, day after day, week after week, year after year, they sit in a circle and spend a few moments listening to their peers offer appreciations for the good things that are happening in their lives.

Or they hear, “You made a commitment. Honoring your commitments is a big deal around here.”

“Sounds a little bit scary, doesn’t it. What do you think would happen if you tried stepping outside your comfort zone, seeing what happens when you face your fear?

“Instead of focusing on what you think you should do, tell me what you love to do. Because it’s the things you’re passionate about, the things that bring you a profound sense of joy, that will bring you success and happiness in life.”

What’s the cumulative effect of being immersed in an environment like that?

* * *

I was at a friend’s house watching a football game last year. I was wearing a PSCS t-shirt and a guy I had just met set said to me, “Oh, you work at that school? I know a bunch of guys that graduated from there a while back. The thing about those guys is, they all really have their act together.”

When you create a program based on the things you don’t see, the results end being clear as day.

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