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  • Three years ago, while I was visiting Montevideo, I noticed my niece Paula -then 9 years old- writing and drawing on a notepad. She was really focused on the task, and had completed several pages, which she had scattered on the table. I was curious to know what kind of homework was so engrossing for her, so I asked.

    "Oh, no. It's not homework. It's a personal project I'm working on" - she replied, showing me the pages.

    It turns out Paula was writing a "Manual for School Survival". The manual had several "chapters", each dealing with problems and situations she and her classmates face every day, from interacting with teachers and other students, to practical issues like what to do when you are in class and you really need to go to the bathroom.

    My first reaction was to think that I wished she didn't have to write that kind of manual, that school should be a better place. Even perfect. Then it dawned on me that school should not be perfect. In fact, it should allow kids to encounter real problems and make mistakes. At the same time, it should give them tools and opportunities to develop resiliency and creativity to face those problems.

    I hope that, by the time she graduates, Paula will keep the attitude that drove her to write her manual or, should I say, I hope school will not take that attitude away from her.

    During my visit to Montevideo last year, I asked her about the manual, and whether she intended to write a second edition of it.

    "I'm working on a new project now" - she told me casually. "It's a Guide for Life".
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