As you read The Magnolia School Curriculum Guide (distributed during Parent Education Night) or The Magnolia School website, you encounter phrases such as “hands-on,” “child-centered,” “life-long learners,” “theme-driven,” and “integration.” The school’s philosophy is important, and it is one of the purposes of our Education Night, where we clarify what we mean. These phrases can be misused, misinterpreted, or mocked, as in “hands-on” meaning “yet another fun project instead of having to learn anything,;” “child-centered” meaning “your child does what he wants to do;” or “life-long learning” meaning “they won’t learn much around here, so we’ll show them how to look it up later.”

I am not making these up, you can find plenty more entertaining definitions on the web if you research education buzzwords.

To rephrase our educational philosophy without using any jargon, we can consider two often-quoted Chinese proverbs. The first one is:

“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”

As “a school for active learning” (our tagline), we believe in learning by doing. Whatever the activity or the topic, once you “do” and, with support, succeed, you are empowered and thus motivated to look at what you are “shown” in order to learn the mechanics, and listen to what you are “told” in order to learn the conventions. At the end of the process, you know how to do whatever it was independently and can prove mastery by teaching someone else. For instance, our students learn about writing and reading by being immersed from Day 1 in the writing/reading process, even before they know their letters.

Pretending (at first) to write and read empowers and motivates them to then look at what they are shown, say, forming letters, and listen to what they are told, say, letter-sound association, thereby acquiring the basic skills involved in writing, decoding and spelling. Eventually, the new readers practice mastery by coaching their younger peers during Buddy Reading, and the new writers practice mastery during peer-editing. Doing (“hands-on”) does not preclude showing and telling; it provides the engagement and the motivation that leads to learning and to mastery.

The second proverb is:

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and he’ll eat forever.”

Transposed to our model, and to a girl for a change, it reads:

“Give a girl a lesson and you feed her mind for a day; teach her to learn and she’ll feed her own mind forever.”

Again, one statement does not preclude the other. Lessons are important to build the knowledge without which one does not know where to file new information; but the goal of an education, and the mission of our school, should remain to form life-long learners. Knowledge in itself is not enough. Competence to use, interpret, and expand on that knowledge is what ultimately matters. Similarly, when we say we privilege process over product, we do not discourage product or pretend that product has no value. We recognize product is important for a sense of accomplishment and pride. But in the course of, say, two months, we would rather have young students entirely produce their own one imperfect book than turn in four flawless books in which they had minimal involvement.

Enrolling your child at The Magnolia School is a sign that you trust us to take your child’s education seriously. We very much appreciate your trust and pledge to keep deserving it by continuing to question our philosophy and practices to best serve our diverse population. Should you still have questions following our Parents Education Night and after reading the Curriculum Guide, please do not hesitate to ask Sophie or your child’s teacher.

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