Debate Magazine

The Scheduling Circus

By Stevemiranda

Today was one of my favorite days of the school year. It was the first day of what we call the “scheduling circus.”

This is when staff and students begin the process of co-creating the class schedule for the fall term. Actually, the process started a week ago, when teaching staff members and volunteers wrote short course descriptions for classes they’re passionate about teaching, and posted those class descriptions to a blog. Students got to review the classes that will be pitched and start thinking about what they’d like to sign up for.

Today, teaching staff members and volunteers gave live, in-person pitches to the students, explaining what the class will be like and responding to any questions. It’s a lengthy process, with students taking lots of notes and making frequent visits with their advisors. To let off steam, we all took an extended lunch and then went to the community center for a giant game of dodgeball.

We ended the day with what we call “stickering.” That’s when all the classes are printed on half-sheets of paper and taped to the wall; students then put colored stickers on the classes they want to sign up for. If a class is pitched but no students want to take it, that class doesn’t make it onto the fall schedule.

Tomorrow is Day 2. Now that we know what students want to learn, it will be time to build the schedule. We’ll go one class at a time: “OK, I see that 12 people want to take Poetry with Steve. He’s only available in the mornings on Tuesday. Do you guys want it first slot or second slot?”

And together, as a community, we try to honor everyone’s needs and build a schedule that will work for all.

* * *

Last week, I was excitedly telling PSCS founder Andy Smallman about a new book I’m reading that explores the scientific research behind a new, progressive way of thinking about school. He smiled and said, “I like reading books about people, and their stories about how they learn best.”

We talked about this, comparing the strengths of relying on scientific research versus what used to be known as “grandmother’s wisdom”: a common sense intuition based on a lifetime of observing what’s true about the world.

I thought about how that kind of wisdom seems to hold less value in our culture, especially now in the age of “metrics and measurables.” For example, the environmental movement received a boost when Al Gore offered a slick, data-rich presentation showing the potentially catastrophic impact of climate change; Native Americans, meanwhile, have been telling us for countless generations that it’s a really bad idea to fill one’s land base with toxins. Why do we need data to convince us of something so obvious?

* * *

At PSCS, we’re starting off a new year with a program that’s grounded in common sense wisdom: we’re going to connect people who are passionate about teaching something with people who have expressed interest in learning it. And we’re not going to wait for the latest research to prove that what we’re doing is right.

Why would we need data to convince us of something so obvious?


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