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Toga! Toga! Toga! – by Steve Miranda

2010 October 27
by The Busy Signal

From John Medina’s book Brain Rules:

Hermann Ebbinghaus was born in 1850. As a young man, he looked like a cross between Santa Claus and John Lennon, with his bushy brown beard and round glasses. He is most famous for having uncovered one of the most depressing facts in all of education: People usually forget 90 percent of what they learn in class within 30 days. He further showed that the majority of this forgetting occurs within the first few hours after class. This has been robustly confirmed in modern times.

The first focus at the school where I work, Puget Sound Community School, is not an academic program; it’s about maintaining an environment in which the curriculum is responsibility and the goal for graduates is maturity. Academics flow naturally from this environment because responsible, mature people recognize that learning is interesting, and that a strong academic background is important for success in life. When I was first hired at PSCS, I interviewed an alumnus to gather information about the school’s unique structure.

He said to me, “The most profound things you learn at PSCS are not necessarily what goes on in the classes; it’s what goes on around the classes that are most important.”

* * *

I was chatting with a former student, who is now a senior at a traditional high school. He said that a group of students decided to be irreverent one day and wear togas to school. (To clarify, this isn’t about recreating a John Belushi scene from Animal House; students dress up all the time. It’s a way to break the monotony of the school year.)

This time, the principal demanded that they change their clothes, go home, or face disciplinary action. The rationale? “It’s a distraction.”

The message my former student internalized was clear. “It’s just teaching everyone what it means to have a boss,” he said. “We’re learning how to go to work and accept the fact someone has arbitrary power over us. We’re learning that that’s normal.”

* * *

The most profound things you learn at school are not necessarily what goes on in the classes, it’s what goes on around the classes that are most important.

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