Debate Magazine

The Race to 18

By Stevemiranda

PSCS’s director, Andy Smallman, read my blog posts from earlier this week about required classes. He sent them out the PSCS parent community, and it generated a fascinating exchange of ideas.

At one point, the question was asked by the parents: what outcomes does PSCS want for its students?

What a great question. I had a flurry of ideas, but paused for a moment to reframe the question. Since part of my job is to attract new families to the school, I thought, What if the roles were reversed? What outcomes would I want for my son and my daughter?

By the time they graduate from high school, I thought, I would want them to be on the path towards becoming whole human beings.

I would want them to know themselves, to know what brings them joy, to have experience encountering and overcoming obstacles in achieving something of high quality, something that is meaningful to them.

I would want them to understand that the world is bigger than they are, and to understand what it means to be a part of a community.

There is more, of course, but this is where my mind went first. As I engaged in the mental exercise, it occurred to me that this list is not a series of potential outcomes for high school. I want my son (who is 7) and my daughter (who is 4) to have these things now. And, I want them to have these things when they are 11 years old, and when they’re 18, and 25. And so on, throughout their lives, with greater sophistication and depth as they get older.

I don’t have a prescribed set of outcomes that I want my son and my daughter to have upon graduation. I want them engaged in a process of discovery—both about themselves and about the world—that takes place over the course of their entire lives. I want them to attend a school that will accelerate and enrich that process.

* * *

One of the PSCS parents who participated in the email discussion wrote this:

“A young adult who knows herself well enough to discern whether or not something has meaning for her, who knows how to acquire the skills/knowledge needed to accomplish whatever (s)he may be dreaming of, and who has the self confidence and self love to act on these two foundational abilities is a young person who had a successful education.  Indeed, this is a person who will be educating herself for the rest of her life.”

* * *

Last week, Andy used a phrase in conversation with me that I’ve been mulling ever since. He described our society’s attitude towards schooling as “the race to 18.” That is, we focus on cramming as much information as possible into kids’ heads so they can put it on their college application. We do this as if these are the only years in which we’re allowed to learn. In fact, ideally, it’s these years that merely set the stage for a lifetime of discovery about one’s self and the world.

18 is not the end, it’s the beginning.

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