Debate Magazine

The Mobius Strip

By Stevemiranda

I’ve been connected to PSCS for more than three years now, but just yesterday I gained a deeper understanding of the school’s philosophy. I want to tell the story because I’m convinced that society’s existing notions about education are dysfunctional. We’re never going to get the outcomes we desire by tweaking the current model. We have to look at education from a completely fresh perspective.

That’s what this story is about.

This was explained to me by PSCS founder Andy Smallman. First, take a look at the PSCS logo. The icon is rendering of a Mobius strip, which is a geometric figure that can be created by taking a strip of paper,

The Mobius strip
giving it a half turn, then connecting the two ends. The Mobius strip is remarkable in that if you take a pen and draw a line on its surface, your path will ultimately lead you back to where you started, and you will have covered both sides of the paper without ever picking up the pen.

It’s a metaphor for learning.

PSCS is a community school. Our program focus is on helping students develop a strong sense of self in the context of being in community with others. If that sounds paradoxical—wait, is the focus on the individual or the group?—that’s because it is. The paradox is resolved, however, when you consider that community can serve as a powerful way for people to discover their authentic selves.

Start with yourself. You engage with honesty, authenticity, and vulnerability with a community of others. The community honors you and your true self, which strengthens you as an individual. That causes you to engage the community with even more confidence and an even stronger sense of self, which makes you an even stronger and more confident member of that community.

Remember the Mobius strip metaphor: the individual and community, interacting interdependently, reinforcing each other.

Think about your typical big urban or suburban school, the ones that warehouse a couple thousand students. These schools move students along an assembly line, with a focus on getting them to meet arbitrary standards established by someone else. The environment is not designed to be emotionally safe, so students sometimes feel the need to disguise their true selves. They want to fit in, so they surrender their individuality. They conform.

As a society, we’ve set up learning environments for kids that lead them away from their true selves, that encourage them to try to be something they’re not. The goal of PSCS is to lead students towards a deeper understanding of themselves, to help them become more of who they already are.

The school’s tagline is “Turning Passion Into Achievement.” In returning once more to the Mobius strip, it’s easy enough to see how passion and achievement are intertwined. When you dial into something that you’re passionate about, it can often lead to dedicated pursuit of improving your skills in that area. Think about someone who plays music because they love it, versus someone who plays music just well enough to earn an “A.”  When you pursue a personal passion, you’re much more likely to achieve something meaningful, and that meaningful achievement fuels your passion even further.

Passion and achievement, interacting interdependently, reinforcing each other.

* * *

This isn’t the only way to look at education. There are countless other programs in the country, and around the world, that have also done the important work of deciding to throw out the existing, dysfunctional model.

They have started, instead, with a blank sheet of paper.


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