Harkness/Exeter vs Sudbury

I was recently reading about the “Harkness Method” first used at Phillips Exeter Academy in the 1930s.

Seems to basically be the Socratic Method/graduate school seminar style teaching with ideally no more than 12-13 people.
The basic idea makes some sense but lots of complaints too.
Here’s one rant: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/petra-janney/prep-school-talking-trash_b_3203729.html

Pros: able to discuss ideas not just facts, not just teaching to the test, discussion not lecture. (I think a flipped-classroom could do this too. As could a larger lecture using an electronic “Student Response System”.)

Summary of Cons:
– if teacher lets clueless and extroverted people talk too much
– if quiet students don’t speak up but grades depend on it
– if students aren’t prepared
– if students like to learn on their own

So I guess like just about anything, something that seems like it could be very useful if done properly, is still probably bad or at best useless or more-of-the-same to many people depending on their preferred learning style. Oh, and their interest in a topic.  I don’t think it’s going to magically make you interested in history if that’s not your thing.  Ken Burns maybe.  Probably not Harkness.

In other words, I still find that FREEDOM is the way to go. Choose a book or textbook, choose a seminar, choose a youtube video, choose a friend to talk with. And freedom to be a little interested, somewhat or very — without someone full of expectations and looking for teachable moments. And ultimately, the freedom to quit. Where else can you get that at the K-12 level except a Sudbury School or Democratic Free School?

Researchers know now that lots of behavior and goals (and bad habits!) are socially contagious. (See for example the myriad of references in Chapter 8 of “The Willpower Instinct” by Kelly McGonigal. So being surrounded by a group of free peers for a few hours each day is likely to be a pretty ideal situation — that’s a Sudbury School.

I also think that there is something difficult to describe about being in situations for 5-6 (or more!) hours a day for 180 days times 14 years of your life where there is someone who is the authority and expert (the teacher) that really warps the mind in ways that are difficult to fully appreciate.  Someone tell me because I don’t know: “Do I know enough yet?” and really “Am I fully a person yet?” So extrinsic.  


Leave a comment

Filed under kids -- freedom and responsibility, kids are complete people, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School, teaching

Comments are closed.