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Episode 182 - Michelle Loucas, Powerful Education in a Diverse Community

Michelle Loucas began her career teaching English in Greece to students ages 7 to 70, over 20 years ago. She taught high school English in Baltimore and the San Francisco Bay area before moving to Philadelphia. In Philly, she worked for a nonprofit where she directed service-learning programs in K-8 schools, taught education courses at Temple University, and helped create a teacher network to support student voice in project-based learning. At the University of Pennsylvania, she coordinated the Master’s Program in Secondary Education, where she taught graduate courses and helped prospective teachers navigate their first classroom experiences. She became increasingly disturbed by the disconnect between the amount of effort she saw smart, dedicated teachers and students making, and the amount of learning actually occurring. Although her partner, Reb, introduced her to democratic schools early in her career, it wasn't until she interacted with students directing their own learning that she became convinced. Further study led her to conclude that mainstream American schools are not designed to effectively prepare young people for success in today's world. She now believes that every parent should insist on a democratic education for their child. In 2002, excited about enabling urban students to direct their own education, Michelle and Reb began assembling the Philly Free School Founders group. She loves staffing at PFS, where she joins the students in the hard but rewarding work of growing into herself every day.


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"This model of education really allows individuals to be individual in a way that no institutional system of schooling can really do." "If that's not one of the biggest symbols of how unnatural our current mainstream education system is, that kids literally don't even light of day outside of the walls of their school unless it's like a twice a year field trip or something." There are families who would never consider sending their kids to our school because those families are so committed to the public schools. They feel somehow they could be turning their backs on the public school by sending their kids to our school. I think that's misguided because I think when they're using the words 'public-school' what they mean by that is the equal rights issue that you're describing. They're talking about giving everybody an opportunity to be well educated that's what they don't want to abandon. I, of course, fully support that, but I don't believe that our current public schools are doing that. I think our public schools are part of the problem and it's unfortunate. I'm not blaming any individuals that are there. I think that it's a structural problem. I don't think that our public schools are providing a quality education for everyone." "They (the students) are within a structure which they have been part of creating, that just respects each other as individuals to find their own paths and to understand that their individual freedom stops right where the next person's freedom begins. That is a little messy, it's not totally obvious, it's certainly not a utopia but that they are all invited to be part of the conversation about working that out on a case-by-case basis each day." "If you're thinking about making a leap out of a conventional educational setting and into another, start by sitting down and trying to forget everything that you associate with school and just ask yourself, "what outcomes do I really want for my kid? What do I really want my kid to be able to do or know? How do I want my kid to be in the world as result of their education?"

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