Debate Magazine

What Does It Mean to “love the Child”?

By Stevemiranda

Last week, I wrote that telling students what to learn is not the point of school. And, helping students learn facts and develop skills is not the point of school. The point of school is to maintain an environment in which students feel safe and secure, in which they have relationships with adults that are trusting and authentic. The point of school is to help young people transition from childhood to adulthood.

Human beings are hardwired for learning, so all schools need to do is create a space in which learning is most likely to happen.

I wrote, “Love the child, and then watch her pursue reading on her own. Love the child, and watch her ask for harder math problems. When people feel good about themselves, you cannot stop them from learning.”

That all might sound a bit vague. For example, what exactly are teachers supposed to do when they “love the child”? It’s not clear based on what I wrote, so I wanted provide a specific example.

In our staff meetings at PSCS, we rarely talk about academic subjects. The content of our staff meetings is typically filled with dialogue about individual kids. Our goal is to make sure that every student in the school—and with eight staff members serving 38 students, it’s not hard to track, literally, every student in the school—is excited about something in their life, excited about something at school, feeling connected to other members of the community, and challenging herself to stretch outside her comfort zone.

Most importantly, we want to make sure that every kid is feeling happy.

If something appears off with a particular student, then we go around and share our thoughts. Is the child feeling anxiety about something? Is everything OK at home? Is she showing signs that she’s moving from one developmental stage and into another? Then, we brainstorm ways we can help that students feel safe, secure, and happy.

One of my first-ever staff meetings at PSCS included a 15-minute discussion of a student who was showing poor posture and a negative affect in one of his classes. The teaching staff each took turns offering suggestions on what might be wrong and how we might get him plugged into activities that would make his heart sing.

I couldn’t believe it. I had spent the past decade teaching in big urban schools in which poor posture and a negative affect toward classes was utterly normal. This new way of thinking about school was a revelation to me, and it lit up all the common sense meters in my brain. Of course this is how human beings learn best.

The best part of it is that, in the past two years at PSCS, I’ve witnessed what happens when you don’t try to force academics on kids: they take the challenge on themselves, by choice.

It’s been a long time since I written this, but it remains true: school doesn’t have to suck.

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