Magic Residential Service Learning


The Magic residential service learning community is people, a place, and practices aimed at developing individual capacity to further human well-being. About fifteen adults and three children live together, sharing three small residences on adjacent parcels in Palo Alto, California. We are joined in using valuescience—scientific methods and principles applied to questions of value—to discern and live towards common interests of humankind. We apply valuescience to explore ideas about meaning and purpose, to become healthier and contribute to others’ doing so, to shape a freer, fairer, more peaceful society, and to protect and enhance the natural environment.

We found our venture upon proven precepts of personal and social change. These include: (1) immersion is among the most effective ways to learn, especially when learning entails broad and deep personal transformation; (2) partners in change can facilitate and accelerate personal evolution; (3) example is a powerful means of communication; and (4) humans learn better by doing than by merely hearing or seeing.

The service-learning community is both laboratory and model. Participants show how valuescience can be means to root out misinformation—however deeply embedded—and reconstruct self and society on firmer ground. We enjoy ongoing working relationships to provide service learning opportunities for public and private elementary, middle, and high schools, colleges, and universities. We publish our work and present it in professional and lay forums. We host and exchange ideas with other leaders in the communities, public service, and educational spheres.


Residents of the service learning community contribute more than half of the volunteer labor necessary to deliver Magic's programs for benefit of the general public. We enjoy each other and life in general, and we feel grateful for the privilege of learning and serving through Magic.

In recent years the community has typically comprised five adults with tenures of more than a decade, five with tenures of one to several years, five who have been here for a shorter period, and three children. Three residents who together have accumulated nearly a century of experience with community living serve as “fellows” and coordinate many aspects of community operations. Short-term residents include interns who stay for as little as a few days and as long as several months. We've grown our numbers slowly, having been six or fewer for twenty years, seven to ten for another decade, and a dozen or more only since 2004.

We're a geographically and ethnically diverse group. Half of us have come from outside California, and a quarter from outside the United States. About a third identify with Asian, African, or Latin American roots. We're also relatively privileged. Most of us have earned one or more university degrees, and many have well-developed professional or avocational skills, though younger people yet to complete formal education, choose a life path, or develop special skills have been an almost constant and very welcome presence. We've varied in age from newborn to sixty-plus, with many twenty- and thirty-somethings and few elders or dependent children.

Approximately a quarter of residents have volunteered full-time with Magic, a quarter have been employed full-time elsewhere, a quarter have been full-time students, and a quarter have mixed volunteer and paid work with formal and informal study. In this mix of life patterns are reflected both respect for individual autonomy and uniqueness and the broad range of opportunities in the area where we live.

Residents of Magic are part of a larger community of service. Many of the more than a hundred past residents remain in contact with each other and with current residents. Several dozen neighbors and supporters living nearby are regular visitors. They and hundreds of occasional volunteers share with us responsibility for operating Magic's public service programs.


The Magic service learning community occupies three modest dwellings and several small outbuildings on adjacent parcels in a quiet neighborhood in Palo Alto, California. We are two blocks from Stanford University, shopping, bus and rail lines, and public parks. Thousands of hectares of publicly accessible open space can be entered from points only two or three kilometers away.

In our mild Mediterranean climate residents work and play on outdoor portions of the one-fifth hectare site year-round. Though Palo Alto has become a center of technology and commerce, Magic's property has elements of rural character, among them three dozen fruit trees, two “heritage” oaks, and a small plant nursery where we grow several hundred seedling trees for use in Magic's Planting for the Second Hundred Years habitat stewardship project.

The total floor area of Magic's buildings is about 400 square meters. In addition to facilities usually associated with residences there are offices, a greenhouse, a workshop, an exercise space with weight training and aerobic conditioning equipment, and a music practice room. Nearby churches, schools, and commercial facilities have classrooms and meeting rooms to accommodate activities ill-suited to a residential neighborhood. Although each resident typically occupies a room of her or his own, most of these are small by contemporary US standards and the ratio of shared to private space is high.

In 2000 and 2004 respectively, Magic acquired two of the three properties now occupied by the residential service learning community. Prior owners had allowed buildings to deteriorate in anticipation of demolition. While we've made substantial progress towards renovation, we've still much to accomplish in order to realize our vision of simple beauty evocative of a monastery. We stretched Magic's resources to expand, and we anticipate working for many more years so that landscape, buildings, furnishings, and levels of maintenance better evidence concern for human well-being and understanding of how to further it.


As we search for better understanding of what we want and how we may secure it, we're learning to question more persistently, to observe more carefully, and to test our perceptions against our and others' experiences. We use “want” here to include everything from our own next breath to world peace. Magicians emphasize that particulars of our practices illustrate a few of many possible ways, rather than “the” way to apply valuescience.

We center our practices on re-examination of everyday behaviors like sleep, eating, exercise, sexuality, dress and grooming, marriage, child-rearing, governance, language, wealth, competition, cooperation, and love. As we consider ideas about these and other aspects of being we discover that we've imagined that we know more than we do. Rather than having admitted ignorance and recognized the necessity for ongoing learning through experience, we've fabricated opinions insufficiently supported by evidence. Living by these illusions we've diminished our and others' satisfaction.

We perceive that valuescience is means to shed illusion. In our practices of valuescience we sift through accumulating findings of diverse disciplines. These include medicine, nutrition, physiology, biology, more recently emerged sciences like evolutionary psychology, ecological anthropology, behavioral economics, and decision analysis, and contemplative traditions like Buddhist meditation, whose practitioners have yet to win widespread recognition as scientists. Through these inquiries we're learning more about constraints upon practice of valuescience, and about how to overcome them or at least mitigate their adverse impacts. Among these sometimes overlapping and/or mutually reinforcing limitations are genetic predispositions, cognitive biases, enculturation, and fatigue.

We view our lives as experiments. We're consciously and continuously testing and evolving. Still we recognize that we evidence a number of distinctive patterns of behavior from which readers can form a picture of life in the community more concrete and detailed than that evident in the general description offered so far. Visitors frequently note that we're purposeful, practical, and considerate. Many are surprised by how we care for “the commons” without specifically scheduled or assigned responsibilities, or by how we bring conflict forward and resolve it collaboratively. Some comment that we verge on monastic in the simplicity and modesty of our lives.

If you've read this far, you may think that we're a heady, idealistic, hard-working, disciplined, radical bunch. We're also fun-loving, positive, tolerant people who give thanks many times each day. We treasure the natural world, including each other and friends beyond Magic, and we take frequent opportunities to “smell the roses.” We sing, make music, and dance. Mealtime conversations, work sessions, and other gatherings are often filled, or at least frequently punctuated with laughter. All of us are in our own ways becoming healthier, more cooperative, and more sensitive to our impacts on the environment. We view our lives as good and becoming better. We enjoy living with the intention of contributing to your and others' around the world feeling this way now and in the future.

An Invitation

If you're intrigued by what you read here and want to learn more about life at Magic you've several means to do so. This website contains extensive information about our founding and evolution, the guidelines by which we aim to live, the diverse public service we've performed, and ongoing opportunities to learn and serve through Magic. If you value what you've learned by reading, please consider a gift to support Magic so that we may continue to make the service learning community available to you and to others. Thank you.

Further Reading

Please check the following on-line works in our Publications Catalog: