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Community. Community. Community.

I got an email today from a friend who’s launching an after-school program to help young people dealing with racism and socioeconomic disadvantage. School isn’t set up for folks in that situation, and my friend wants to do something about it.

The program involves getting together once a week to work on mathematics and literacy, using service learning in the community, mentors from the community, family involvement, and peer tutoring. The goal of the program is summed up like this: “We will utilize the Academic Night as an organizing platform to build healthy community among our youth, their families, and their larger communities.”

Community. Community. Community.

In school, we operate under the conceit that if we focus on content delivery—that is, if our lesson plans and unit plans are elegantly prepared—then human relationships won’t matter.

And after-school programs are left to pick up the pieces.

Of course, classroom teachers know that relationships matter. But school is not set up in a way to enable true community to develop. Six classes a day, five minutes between classes and 30 minutes for lunch. Get ‘em in, get ‘em out. One teacher typically sees  150 kids every day, for 55 minutes at a time. In that structure, there’s a limit to what classroom teachers can do to build the authentic, caring human relationships that provide the foundation for academic and social growth.

The failings of our schools are not a result of the failings of individuals. It’s a failing of the institution.

We need to redesign the institution.

Steve Miranda is the director of Puget Sound Community School in Seattle. He blogs daily at



5 thoughts on “Community. Community. Community.

  1. Nice…

    You know, I’m convinced that the innovation that needs to happen in our schools has everything to do with relationships. Most of our school-based relationships are ones of power and authority. And most of the initiatives to more vividly engage students (and teachers) in their “work” have, at their heart, a change in the way the power and authority flows through the system.

    Hmmm…interesting stuff.

    Posted by Stephen Hurley | November 13, 2010, 10:49 pm
  2. Right on, Steve.

    School needs to be programs like this. Kids really aren’t into willingly suspending their disbelief for any “relevant” activity that stays trapped in a textbook, computer program, or classroom. School is set up for teaching, not learning. The system does indeed need a redesign after the assumption of new core values like community.


    Posted by Chad Sansing | November 14, 2010, 9:00 am
  3. Hello I am Edward Hughes from John Strange’s EDM 310 class and i have to agree on what you have said in this post. Students need to have some time to have some where they can talk to the teacher and ask questions about the lesson on a one-on-one basis. I think that every school should at least have this as an option that students can use to better understand the material learned in class.

    Posted by Edward Hughes | November 14, 2010, 11:33 am
  4. Hi Steve,

    It’s an honor to meet you here. I have heard great things about PSCS, even from way up here in the San Juan Islands. I read about PSCS’s kindness classes. I’d love to see you post on that some time.

    Totally agree with the desperate need for a more spacious kind of education. Relationships require time and space. And all meaningful learning is rooted in authentic relationships between self and other.

    Thanks for your post.


    Posted by Paul Freedman | November 15, 2010, 10:23 am
  5. Steve, I’m wondering if your friend would be willing to write about the math component of this project for my book, Playing With Math: Stories from Math Circles, Homeschoolers, and the Internet. There is a section on work being done in schools, and I’d love something like this. (You can email me at mathanthologyeditor on gmail.)

    Posted by Sue VanHattum | November 15, 2010, 4:28 pm

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