Wisdom of the Fool Brings Michael Meade to Santa Barbara Meeting of Educational Minds

Stacy Pulice, PhD is a parent of one high schooler and two young adults; she is also a psychologist, an author working on her first book, and a member of multiple nonprofit boards. The common foundation of all of Stacy’s passions is the intersection of psychology and education: more specifically, she is interested in finding ways to positively transform public education.

“In my dissertation, I looked at the impact of so-called whole-child education at Santa Barbara Middle School on students who then went to Santa Barbara High School,” Pulice told me. Students in her study felt they’d learned better and more deeply and were able to be themselves without fear at the middle school, where they’d experienced loving relationship, strong support, interactive learning, and curricula that didn’t involve rote memorization or high-stakes testing. These young people experienced coming into the high school from Santa Barbara Middle School as a brutal transition into an uncaring environment. They quickly saw that succeeding in the high school was more about memorizing and regurgitating information than about actually learning. Cheating was seen as a perfectly valid way to make it through. Socially, they felt both invisible and terrified of being judged and stereotyped. 

“What’s worse,” Pulice says, “is that they assumed that this high school experience was what they really needed to prepare them for ‘the real world.’ I started to wonder whether this was really true – is the real world all about fear, disconnection, memorization and regurgitation? About doing whatever is necessary, even cheating, to get through? – and whether, if it was true, I was okay with that.” 

What role was the public education system playing, she wondered, in creating the world these teens thought they were being prepared for? Where was this system going wrong, and how could it be transformed? Pulice formed an organization, Wisdom of the Fool, to address these questions.

As a founder and board member of the MAD Academy at Santa Barbara High School; a board member and educational liaison of AHA! (Attitude. Harmony. Achievement.), a non-profit that delivers social-emotional learning to 3000 Santa Barbara area teens each year; and as a scholar on the intersections of psychology and education, Pulice has cultivated relationships with many professors, administrators, and philanthropists from Santa Barbara and beyond. On November 22, 2014, she gathered many of them at her home in Winchester Canyon for the first Wisdom of the Fool gathering. Attendees included Santa Barbara High School principal John Becchio, Santa Barbara High’s Media Arts and Design (MAD) Academy head Dan Williams, UCSB professor Victor Rios, philanthropist Natalie Orfalea, psychologist Jennifer Freed PhD, and therapist Rendy Freedman, MFT (Freed and Freedman are co-executive directors of AHA!).

Stacy and her husband, Ron, brought poet, author, men’s movement pioneer, and teacher Michael Meade to lead the day’s conversation. The purpose was to look at ways in which public education could be transformed. In Meade’s words, “Young people need help understanding the world – not just how to do academic tasks. They need a psychological education as well as an academic one.” How should we prepare young people for the lives that await them – lives we really can’t imagine right now, as the pace of technology, culture, and scientific progress roll forward faster than they ever have? How can we educate youth who will bring with them into adulthood the qualities and sense of safety that Pulice saw SBMS alumni leave behind when they entered high school? 

This was no Power Point presentation to people clumped behind long tables; this was an impassioned conversation that folded in participants’ minds, hearts and spirits. The gathering included storytelling, large and small group discussion, poetry reading, and drumming. It didn’t get into curriculum — a place where, all too often, the educational system gets stuck when trying to fix itself. It looked at education as a spiritual journey that involves both elders and young people; at where education has diverged from that purpose; and how it might be nudged back in that direction.