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Perspectives 2017/2018

Harkness Learning and Teaching

Every year over Parents’ Weekend, we offer a short talk and then “Q&A” about Harkness learning. Not every parent can attend that little session, and many who can actually leave the session with more questions about the details of how we operate than they were asking when they arrived. We offer this publication, then, to help parents and other participants in the school community to see and consider a few more of the particulars of what we’re up to, and why, and how.




Introduction • Constellations




dward Harkness didn’t like attention. That is, he didn’t like to be the center of it. He was a modest man who eschewed stardom, preferring to remain in the shadows, observing and thinking, as he loved to do at the theater. He was a committed man of action, but of the discreet kind. Discovering that we honor Mr. Harkness by using his surname in referring to our primary pedagogy would unsettle this humble gentleman. When promoting collaborative learning, he referred, as did others in his time, to The Conference Method. Mr. Harkness fought, in his circumspect but determined way, to make more broadly available a model of education featuring not solitary beacons streaming erudition at “bright, shining faces” but groups of minds joining forces to take on a challenging question or issue. He did this for a variety of reasons, but one was that his own school experience had been far from satisfying. Looking back on his years at St. Paul’s (now an important locus of innovation in the

world of dialogical learning), Harkness could see that he’d not been well served by a system in which he’d been expected to listen passively, as a receptacle for already-settled conclusions, not actively, as part of a team of co-responsible problem solvers. Furthermore, Harkness recognized that, rather than help him to find his voice and his place at any table, the old-school way—with masters either lecturing to or cold-calling on boys who’d had no time to reflect and gather their thoughts—had left him with keen feelings of inadequacy. That old system had anointed just a few winners, the magisterial teachers and their quickest-witted pets, the stars who sparkled almost instantaneously upon hearing a question whose anticipated answer they could echo right away. What Harkness wanted was a method of schooling that would train young people not only to confer with one another to solve problems but that would instill in them a commitment to the sort of consultative discourse on which all good community

(and national, and international) institutions depend for promoting collective success. He also wanted schools to impart to their students not just the skills necessary for effective discussion but the sensibilities that are every bit as important to the success of constructive interchange. That meant finding a way of convening school communities so that they could not only teach young people how to speak up but also how to listen and consider—and to do all of these things with both confidence and grace, with both dignity and empathy. For the past few years we’ve been producing this brochure in order to broaden the school’s discussion circle, particularly with regard to our commitment to collaborative learning. The teenagers and teachers here put tremendous thought and energy into figuring out the best ways of pursuing our mission. It is no small matter “to inspire the best in each to seek the best for all.” We can only realize that mission if, in addition to students and

teachers, we include families, alumni, trustees and other essential members and supporters of the community in the details of what we’re doing—and in the ongoing project of figuring out how to extend and refine our commitment to growing through dialogue. So we hope that you experience the various Perspectives offered here as helpful entry points into understanding what we’re doing—and, furthermore, into joining the conversation about how to support the kids who help to make this thing go and, finally, about what crucial Harkness-furthering initiatives to take up next. I suggested before that Edward Harkness didn’t like attention. In one way, that is true. Of course, in another, Mr. Harkness actively sought attention—that is, the careful paying of it, by collections of people, to one another and to the principles, questions and problems that connect us. He didn’t want to showcase or anoint single stars. He sought to pull back and observe—and also to operate as— constellations.

– Pier Kooistra P’19 The Robert S. and Christina Seix Dow Distinguished Master-Teaching Chair in Harkness Learning





t Lawrenceville, we have the good fortune of living and learning in a richly diverse environment with students from all walks of life from across the country and around the globe. This vibrant community provides us with the opportunity to learn from each other and therefore expand our thinking and broaden our lenses. Diversity also comes with difficulties because difference is complicated to navigate. Most of us have come from communities where we could count on our neighbors to have values and experiences similar to our own, but at Lawrenceville that is not necessarily the case—and shouldn’t be

the case if we have done our job well in the admissions process. Before we can harness all the gifts that come from diversity, we first need to overcome the challenges that can arise when we are confronted with something unfamiliar and new. Indeed, just as physical growth is often accompanied by some aches and pains, growth in perspective can also be fraught with discomfort. However, just in the same way that physical growing pains can lead to physical transformation, these intellectual pains, when approached constructively, can also lead to important breakthroughs in understanding and valuable adjustments in perspective. The Buddhist Philosopher Daisaku Ikeda

“At Lawrenceville, we believe that asking complicated questions and having messy conversations is central to having the kind of dialogues that push us to grow and transform.”

has asserted, “Everything begins with dialogue. Dialogue is the initial step in the creation of value. Dialogue is the starting point and unifying force in all human relationships.” This philosophy serves as the cornerstone of the programming and initiatives that come from the Intercultural Programs office at Lawrenceville. These offerings give students the opportunity to come together from across the campus to engage in courageous conversations about some of our society’s most pressing questions concerning the human condition. At Lawrenceville, we believe that asking complicated questions and having messy conversations is central to having the kind of dialogues that push us to grow and transform. These conversations happen in brave spaces where students are supported to practice courage and vulnerability as they share their thoughts and experiences with each other, sometimes with peers they have never met. They are asked to practice compassion for themselves and their peers by recognizing that

everyone comes to the conversation with a different lens and at a different point in their learning journey. Some of us are further along and some of us are just starting to think about an issue, and we are challenged to make space for the entire spectrum in our conversations. Throughout the school year, students have the opportunity to engage in such conversations through programs like Lunch and Dialogue, Courageous Conversations, and Community Day, as well as through the various programs offered by our student organizations. Lunch and Dialogue is a weekly lunch-and-discussion series that takes place on Wednesdays after classes and examines various contemporary social issues through film. Students are provided with lunch, view about 20-25 minutes of film, and then break out into small discussion groups to confer with one another about key takeaways and their implications. They are encouraged to think about what’s unfamiliar and challenging, to ask questions to further their understanding and to

“Lunch and Dialogue has examined a wide range of issues around race, gender expression, sexual orientation, notions of masculinity, socioeconomic class, religion, climate change and much more.”



“We as a whole community will take a break from the daily grind during the winter term to engage in dialogue and deepen our understanding of today’s most pressing issues through Community Day.”



deeply reflect on how these issues affect them on a regular basis. Lunch and Dialogue has examined a wide range of issues around race, gender expression, sexual orientation, notions of masculinity, socioeconomic class, religion, climate change and much more. Courageous Conversations is a program that invites students interested in exploring different social identities to do so through group inquiry, taking up complicated issues by sharing their personal journeys and questions with one another. In addition to these offerings, we as a whole community will take a break from the daily grind during the winter term to engage in dialogue and deepen our understanding

of today’s most pressing issues through Community Day. Community Day focuses on a central guiding theme and includes a keynote speaker who reflects on that theme with a variety of accompanying workshops offered by students, faculty, Lawrenceville parents, and outside guests. At Lawrenceville, we challenge our diverse community of students to “lead lives of learning, integrity and high purpose” that “inspire the best in each to seek the best for all.” Together with the discussions that take place in our classrooms around the Harkness tables, Intercultural Programs strengthen students’ capacity to commit to high purpose. Our hope and goal is that, through these courageous conversations, students deepen the relationships they form with each other and thereby fully harvest the fruits of living and learning in a diverse school community, both here and in the wider world.





arkness, at its heart, is about collective analysis and group problem-solving. Dance, at its core, is about sharing a journey. It’s about choreographer, dance instructor, and dancers working together. To breathe life into the choreographer’s vision. To meld music to movement. To explore ways of overcoming the confinements and challenges of space. Last year, this publication featured important ways in which our vocal and instrumental programs empower students to propel their

own musical learning, then to review and refine their own practice and performance. This year, as Chair of Performing Arts, I’d like to share some details about how dance and theater at Lawrenceville also epitomize vital principles of Harkness teaching and learning. Dancers must learn to collaborate in order to solve problems; otherwise, things can go horribly wrong and people can get hurt. Dancers work as a group analyzing issues that arise from movement, music, and space. In order to propel a dance project to performance readiness, the collaborators, in the truest spirit

“Our dance program isn’t just where Lawrentians learn to move their bodies with poise and grace; it is one of the places in which they learn to move their thinking, to change their minds.”



The process could not be effectively learned, however, without a few ground rules: • T  he classroom is a welcome environment for wild creativity, which is modeled and encouraged. • P  articipation is a must – showing and telling. • W  e insist on excellence from each other in articulating, expressing, and understanding our work, which defines the wildness of our creativity. • S elf-assessment and peer assessment build up a greater capacity for expressive and creative ideas. PERSPECTIVES


“It should be no surprise that Lawrenceville Performing Arts is one of Harkness education’s truest homes.” of Harkness, must “workshop” the piece, exploring all the possible repercussions of a particular choice, both good and bad. To engage effectively in this collective process, each participant must commit to listening to—and truly considering—others’ viewpoints and ideas. Furthermore, each contributor to a workshop interchange must be genuinely dedicated, when offering constructive-critical feedback, to engaging with empathy for fellow ensemble members. This collaborative enterprise can only succeed if all involved “find their voices” and speak up in order to ask critical questions and, furthermore, to affirm



others’ best observations and proposals.

fifth-form boys who live with me in Upper

Sometimes there are difficult riddles to solve—requiring hours of experimentation, consultation, and trouble-shooting—before the collaborators on a dance project find themselves working in synchronicity. Sometimes there are conflicts to work through, emerging not just from competing ideas but from differing worldviews and personalities. Persisting in order to succeed at this kind of collaboration not only helps each Lawrenceville dance project to spring to life but, in a longer-lasting way, imbues each participant with skills essential for growing as an enigmatologist and as a communicator, and, furthermore, for approaching life with an artist’s sensibilities and skills—in realms beyond the performing arts.

House. Apart from that (as is also true of SDC’s

One of the school’s best examples of Harkness in motion is the Spring Dance Concert, our annual student-led dance showcase. For SDC, I choreograph one piece, a big ensemble number featuring a bunch of the

theatrical cousin, Winterfest), every piece that springs to life on the stage is a studentpropelled production. Every step, jump, turn and flourish—and every detail of costuming, lighting, makeup and music—emerges from student initiative and collaboration. Another factor that gives SDC its special energy: We don’t just let students design and realize their own dance and production ideas; the whole event is co-produced by a student coordinator. It should be no surprise that Lawrenceville Performing Arts is one of Harkness education’s

truest homes. Edward Harkness, whose generous gifts set in motion what he preferred to call The Conference Method of teaching and learning, shared an intense friendship with Lewis Perry, Lawrenceville Class of 1894. Perry is most famous for serving as Principal of Phillips Exeter Academy during the period when that great school adopted The Conference Method. This educational revolution didn’t happen by accident. Concerned about an academic culture dominated by lectures (and, during pauses, by masters cold-calling on pupils), Harkness looked for a chance to push high-school education in a new direction. Once upon a time, Harkness and Perry had met at a wedding. As they talked about the magic of watching new worlds come to life on stage, they formed a special bond. When Perry took over at Exeter, Harkness proposed to his dear friend that the Academy approach education in the same mode in which a theater-production team mounts a new play—as a collaboration,

with students as well as teachers weighing in to explore various ways of answering a question or solving a problem. Lewis Perry’s revolutionary impact at Exeter had important roots in what he had learned and made happen at Lawrenceville. This year we are celebrating 125 seasons of student-propelled theater here. By the time of his graduation, Perry had done so much to promote student-led stage productions on this campus that his colleagues in the Lawrenceville Dramatic Club renamed the organization in his honor: Periwig. Now it has been 125 years since Lewis Perry played a key role in transforming the

culture of theater here and almost nine decades since he and Edward Harkness set in motion the revolution that started at Exeter…and then continued here (now with an impact well beyond the Periwig stage). Deep into the second decade of the twenty-first century, our dance program isn’t just where Lawrentians learn to move their bodies with poise and grace; it is one of the places in which they learn to move their thinking, to change their minds. Almost twenty years into the twentyfirst century, our theater program provides crucial opportunities for our students to engage in practical problem-solving, conflict resolution, and collective critical thinking. Our studios and the KAC stage are not just where choreographic visions and bodies take flight, or where words in a script come to life, but key venues where the principles of Harkness education soar, unlocking, as we like to say, students’ “Passion, Performance, and Possibilities.” Harkness in motion!





hen I think back on the mathematics courses I took in high school and college, the image that immediately pops into my head is one of me feverishly writing notes and trying to absorb information as a teacher is presenting it. Perhaps not surprisingly, that is not what drove me to pursue a career in math; what I love about studying math is the challenge of not always knowing the right way to solve a problem or prove a theorem and the sense of accomplishment that comes from having begun to make progress towards my goal. Many students arrive at Lawrenceville having

had experiences similar to mine; they are accustomed to experiencing math as a subject in which the students take notes while the teacher lectures, and then they go home and try to employ what they were supposed to have learned. This is often very challenging because during class the teacher was the one doing the work and the students have not actually had the chance to understand. The beauty of Harkness education in mathematics is it insures that teachers don’t just demonstrate what they know; they set students up to learn essential concepts, procedures, and connections for themselves. On any given day the students in a math class

“The beauty of Harkness education in mathematics is it insures that teachers don’t just demonstrate what they know; they set students up to learn essential concepts, procedures, and connections for themselves. ” 12




at Lawrenceville might take some notes to record the fundamentals laid out during a teacher-delivered lecture, but the main goal of the class period is to have students working together to build and create understanding based on the foundation they have laid up to that point. This is a challenging process because the students have to improvise in an effort to incorporate new principles and fill gaps in their understanding. The teacher is there to help guide and confirm their thinking, but the learning process is centered around the students constructing their own understanding. In the moment, this process is challenging for them, but ultimately figuring things out for themselves helps create enduring knowledge that sticks with the students beyond their time at Lawrenceville. In Honors Calculus AB, a big focus of our study is applying the concepts we’ve learned. There are many ways this plays out throughout the year, but the one that stands out for my students and me alike is the day during the fall term when students, having 14


just been introduced to the concept of a derivative, work autonomously to match the graphs of functions to their derivatives. Initially, the students struggle with this exercise because they have to take their just-emerging knowledge about a derivative and use that to analyze graphs. Before long, the classroom has filled with spirited debate and students drawing on the boards. At the end of the exercise, the students are eager to know if they have made the correct matches, and many leave expressing how challenging the matches were to make. This class day is one of my favorite days of the whole year because the students work through the challenge and deepen their understanding of a derivative, all while working together. At the end of the year, this class day is one that the students often cite as among their most memorable. While I hope that the calculus my students learn throughout the year will stick with them for a long time to come, it’s the skills that they develop while constructing their own understanding, solving problems, and

embracing the challenges they face along the way that they will use for the rest of their lives, whether they pursue more mathematics or not. This is the enduring value of Harkness education.

“...figuring things out for themselves helps create enduring knowledge that sticks with the students beyond their time at Lawrenceville.�



Mending Wall STEPHEN S. MURRAY H’55 ’65 ’16 P’16 ’21, HEAD MASTER

Faculty colleagues, students, parents, alums, friends – welcome to the opening of the 208th year of the Lawrenceville School.


he world can be a dangerous place. Not everyone you meet is your friend. When my son Sam was 17, he was on a service project in Guatemala building homes in a remote, impoverished village. Walking back to his hotel late one evening alone, he was jumped from behind and badly beaten by a couple of guys who wanted his cell phone.

They got it. This of course could happen almost anywhere – at home or abroad – but not long after, I was corresponding with a security expert on international travel, and given the context of the incident, his comment was that Sam was lucky to be alive. Needless to say, a profoundly sobering thought. My son learned an important lesson that night about not being naïve, about not being overly trusting in certain circumstances. Luckily, he learned an equally important lesson a few years later to help balance this. He was 20 and studying for the summer

“Perhaps there are times to resist these impulses, to adopt a bit of faith, that just as natural forces tend to gently and inexorably pull down walls, we need to have a bit of courage and trust as we face the world, and allow our physical and mental barriers to come down.” 16


in Dakar, Senegal. He was living in a local neighborhood where a group of young men played soccer every evening on a deserted, dusty lot. It was a ragtag group of street kids; many of them did not own a pair of shoes, so when substituting from the sidelines, players entering had to borrow footwear from those leaving the field. In spite of their lack of equipment, they played rather extraordinary soccer – the equivalent of the unbridled, improvisational artistry that one sees on inner-city, asphalt basketball courts in the US, or with pick-up hockey on frozen ponds in rural Canada – just pure love of the game, raw talent, and a bit of bravado thrown in. Coming home from class, Sam would stop by and watch from the sidelines, hoping to join in. He was a white kid and a foreigner, and the local Senegalese couldn’t imagine he could keep up. One evening, they were short a player, and grudgingly, since Sam patiently showed up every day, they finally invited him to play.

He scored two goals in the first five minutes, and from then on, he was in. He played every evening with them. Because Sam was living there, my wife and I took a active interest that summer when Senegal was in the news. We saw images on CNN of tires burning in the streets as protesters clashed with police. We skyped with my son and asked if he thought he needed to get out of there. He responded, “Oh, there’s nothing to worry about, those are not antiwestern protests, those are anti-government, pro-democracy riots – the president just tried to pass a decree making his son automatically his heir apparent and the people aren’t having it. Besides, since I have been playing soccer, all the families in my neighborhood know me, so I’ll be fine.” We swallowed hard as parents, but it turns out, his instincts were right, and he returned home safely at the end of the summer. I have been reflecting on my son’s experience as I watch the resurgence in this

country of a more nativist attitude, as I see us giving in to the urge to put up barriers, to keep the world at bay, to mistrust and to fear outsiders. This nativist fear and mistrust recently came to a head, tragically, in Charlottesville,VA. While the flashpoint ostensibly was whether or not to honor Confederate leaders in public spaces, that wasn’t really the issue; that kind of a question can and should be handled by municipal leaders and historians in thoughtful debate. And in fact, that had already occurred in Charlottesville, and the democratically elected officials had made a reasoned decision – it was no doubt contentious – but they worked within the system to arrive at their decision. What was on display in Charlottesville this past August was an angry mob that included white supremacist militias, the Ku Klux Klan, and neo-Nazis, many of them armed. What was on display was a deeply misguided and downright repugnant nostalgia:



• on the part of the KKK, for a racially segregated society, • and for the Nazis, a nostalgia for an ideology of anti-Semitism and racial superiority that was decisively defeated by allied forces, led by the United States in WWII. Racial segregation, hierarchies that exclude, or, worse, promote violence against religious groups, ethnic cleansing, are all forms of building walls to keep out the “other”, of excluding a group to create the illusion of superiority, of erecting mental barriers based on hate and mistrust. Before we decide that the outside world is such a hostile place, that foreigners are to be feared and walls are to be built, I’d suggest spending some time in the receiving area of Terminal 4 at Kennedy Airport. Terminal 4 is for international departures and arrivals, and I was there not long ago picking up my middle son, James, who was just returning from a semester in Vietnam. The terminal teems with nervous energy as people from all over the



world cross paths. I couldn’t begin to identify the myriad languages, and I felt reminded of the extraordinary power and richness woven into the fabric of humanity in this country, the fabric of humanity that has long made this country great. I frankly cannot fathom the talk about curtailing this energy, of allowing fear to drive a decision to limit the influx of drive and initiative. I cannot fathom this any more than I can fathom the hate, the intolerance, and the mental barriers on display in Charlottesville. Now, let’s be honest. It is easier to be open and generous when in a place of privilege. There is a legitimate and understandable sense of mistrust and betrayal felt among certain sectors of this country whose economic futures have experienced a long, slow erosion, whose livelihoods were ravaged during the recent recession, and who have never benefited from the inexorable evolution of the global economy. Their plight is real. If these circumstances have fueled some of the mistrust

of globalism and wariness of the outside world, I am not entirely surprised; we are not always at our best when we feel vulnerable, and opportunistic voices can easily exploit and exacerbate our sense of vulnerability. But this is not primarily about economic uncertainty. I am struck that this is far more than just a question of building a wall or not, or imposing new restrictions on well-established immigration guidelines. This is more than the short-term political gain of creating a scapegoat in the form of the outsider; more than just pandering to Americans’ baser instincts and fears (Americans, who have virtually all descended from one-time immigrants themselves). While historians can debate the legacy of Civil War statuary, and while economists determine whether or not closing off our borders, canceling visas, and tearing up trade agreements confers any benefit at all on the American workforce, I see a much bigger question about national identity.





Do the words etched at the base of the Statue of Liberty – “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” – still ring true? Even if we all accept necessary and practical restraints on immigration and responsible legal channels for entry into this country, do these words still describe an ideal to which we aspire? Do these words describe our country at its best, as a beacon of hope, fairness, and compassion? Or, have we changed as a country? Do we now want to hunker down behind protective barricades, limiting our profile in the world, muting our moral leadership, dimming the torch that once invited strangers to our door? There is a school of thought that says that our most valuable import is human capital and that our most valuable export is our legal system: the constitutional balance of government power, an independent judiciary, and the basic notion of the rule of law. And all of that – both the import of people and the export of a fundamental value that we as a

nation hold – is predicated on a basic trust in humanity and a basic belief that this country has enormous potential to be a force for good in the world, if we choose to act on that potential. It may seem like an unlikely place to look for clarity and perhaps a bit of wisdom, but as I look for answers, my mind goes to a remote corner of New England and to a quintessentially American poet. In his poem “Mending Wall,” first published in 1914, Robert Frost lightly, almost playfully, poses a question about the significance of a mundane pile of rocks. The poem unfolds with a New England farmer who gets together with a neighbor to rebuild the stone wall that runs along their property line. The winter frost heaves and the occasional careless hunter tend to knock down bits of the wall, so a spring ritual is to repair the boundary. If you know about New England stone walls, they are laid without mortar, stone upon stone, and with a bit of care, they can last a very long time.

They both create a divide between fields, and, at the same time, dispose of stones pulled from the meager soil – more stone than dirt in some areas. Repairing a wall is heavy work – “We wear our fingers rough,” complains the narrator. “Good fences make good neighbors,” says the other farmer. With a bit of spring “mischief ” running through him, the narrator then gently jibes his taciturn partner as they work: “Why do they make good Neighbors? (…) Before I built a wall I’d ask to know What I was walling in or walling out, And to whom I was like to give offense.” His reticent neighbor replies simply, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Without resolving the question, Frost leaves us wondering if we should rely on the cautious wisdom of a flinty New Hampshire farmer who wants things walled in, and walled out, or if we should reject such a mindset and embrace



a more open attitude. He opens his poem with the line, “Something there is that does not love a wall.” On the surface, Frost is talking about natural forces that gradually erode a wall that is not tended. But as we are drawn into the poem, he is suggesting that there may be more important implications here: Do good fences indeed make good neighbors? Our natural, fearful impulses certainly may cause us to put up boundaries, and why shouldn’t we take steps to keep your cows out of my corn, so to speak. And in truth, there are times to be cautious and careful and prudent. As I say, the world can be a dangerous place. But perhaps there are times to resist these impulses, to adopt a bit of faith, that just as natural forces tend to gently and inexorably pull down walls, we need to have a bit of courage and trust as we face the world, and allow our physical and mental barriers to come down.



With this in mind, I reflect on our own growth and evolution as a school. We sometimes tell stories about Lawrenceville’s long history of taking in and being enriched by students from beyond our borders. Now,

while it is true that back in the early days of the 19th century, we had students from Cuba and from the Cherokee nation; and I am aware that one of our Heely Scholars wrote about two Japanese students who were here in the 1930’s and 1940’s; still, these and other examples were notable exceptions. For much of our history, we have not been a school that opened its doors widely or that embraced difference consistently. We lived safely behind a wall of sorts, neither inviting “outsiders” in nor venturing out into the world beyond our comfort zone. We have changed and evolved. While continuing to embrace enduring beliefs about character, sportsmanship, and personal honor, we have broadened our scope, adapted to a more current context, and done a better job of living up to long-established national aspirations, aspirations that are explicit in the Declaration of Independence, that are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, and that are etched in the base of the Statue of Liberty.

“In my thirty years as an educator, I have not been in a more richly diverse, welcoming environment. We have changed as a school, and we are better and stronger for it.� PERSPECTIVES


Even if imperfectly pursued over time, these national ideals remind us… • that we are all created equal before the law; • that all individuals deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and deserve the freedom to worship as they see fit; • a nd that ultimately we are a nation of immigrants and our strengths derive from our willingness to open our doors to others. Lawrenceville’s greatest strides in opening up doors and living up to these aspirations have been in more recent times: • n  otably with the admission of AfricanAmerican students in 1964; • and with the advent of coeducation in 1986; • a nd in very recent years achieving a student body that now hovers around 50% of color, matching the national demographic of school-age children, and with students holding passports from 39 countries around the world. In my thirty years as an educator, I have not been in a more richly diverse, welcoming

environment. We have changed as a school, and we are better and stronger for it. With this perspective, with our own ideals in mind, is it wise then, is it the right course of action, for our country to evolve in a different direction: • To sink back behind walls? • To mistrust by default? • To give in to our vulnerabilities? I turn to examples of people, who, even in times of stress and adversity, did not give in to their fears and anxieties. Tom Brokaw – longtime journalist and author of The Greatest Generation, a book about the men and women who fought in WWII, wrote a recent essay on a friendship – a friendship that reached across racial lines, that literally reached across a barbed wire barrier – a wall, if you will. It is the story of the lifelong bond between Alan K. Simpson, former republican senator from Wyoming, and Japanese-American Norman Mineta, former secretary of transportation under George Bush,

a member of Congress, and a liberal democrat. The two met as boys when Simpson’s Boy Scout troop accepted an invitation to a scout jamboree behind the barbed wire of an internment camp in Wyoming. Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt, giving in to a panic sweeping the nation, signed an executive order consigning 110,000 Japanese Americans, including Norman Mineta and his family, to hastily constructed concentration camps. The boys met behind the barbed wire enclosure, under the watchful eyes of armed guards in towers, and their friendship lasted a lifetime. Brokaw goes on to describe that as Transportation Secretary, Norman Mineta was a key figure in ramping up airport security in the wake of the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center. In a meeting with the president, a congressman reminded Mr. Bush that “he had many Muslim constituents and that they were very worried about having their travel restricted or being rounded up and detained.”



From Frost’s “Mending Wall” My apple trees will never get across And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him. He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.” Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder If I could put a notion in his head: “ Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it Where there are cows? But here there are no cows. Before I built a wall I’d ask to know What I was walling in or walling out, And to whom I was like to give offence. Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That wants it down.” 26


Much to Mineta’s relief, President Bush responded, “We don’t want to have happen today what Norm went through in 1942.” In the midst of a national tragedy and the worst terrorist attack on American soil by an outside threat, we did not give in to our baser instincts. At our opening faculty meeting I alluded to a recent article published in the Times by Thomas Friedman, who was writing from an airbase in the Persian Gulf the morning after Heather Heyer was killed by a white supremacist in Charlottesville. He described watching our air force operating from the largest US base in the Middle East, fighting a group bent on imposing an exclusionary ideology on other people. He notes that the Secretary of the Air Force is a woman. Her chief aide is a female African American lieutenant colonel. He observes that the soldiers conducting the operations are male and female, they are white, black, Asian, Indian, Latino, – and he talked about

the strength of pluralism, the strength of our pluralist society. E Pluribus Unum – “out of many, one.” Our differences are our strength, as he says, “both at home and abroad.” And then there are so many moments in Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy where we see people with the courage to give in to love, where they rise above their fear. He describes the older woman who has taken it upon herself, in her words, to try to catch or deflect stones that others throw thoughtlessly at the vulnerable. She’s the one, you’ll recall, who suffered the wrenching tragedy of the murder of her grandson; only to find herself in turn pitying and mourning the murderers who were being sentenced. I do not know if I would be capable of such an act of empathy and forgiveness, but I am moved and inspired by her depth of soul, as was Bryan Stevenson. She did not give in to her fear. She did not seek to hunker down behind her grief – and no one would have blamed her if she had. She found inner strength and chose

to pull down walls, to channel her energy in a positive manner. And there is the courage of the character Mrs. Williams, who, in order to show her support, overcame her anxiety, walked through the metal detector, past the line of police deputies, and past the intimidating guard dog, and said loudly to the courtroom, “Attorney Stevenson, I’m here.” Indeed she was. In that brief phrase, as Stevenson writes, she was saying, “I may be old, I may be poor, I may be black, but I’m here. I’m here because I’ve got this vision of justice that compels me to be a witness. I’m here because I am supposed to be here. I’m here because you can’t keep me away.” These stories remind us of the importance of respect, tolerance, and an open heart. These are American values, and, these are Lawrenceville values. Let me conclude with a final story that brings this a bit closer to home. The Times of Trenton ran a story on Major Erhan Bedestani, Army Green Beret with

combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, a Turkish immigrant of Muslim faith, and Lawrenceville Class of 1998. The story centers on the friendship between Major Bedestani and Gen. Zarawar Zahid, known as Colonel “Z”, an Afghan police commander who fought the Taliban side by side with Bedestani’s Special Forces group. Zahid was killed a year ago by a bomb planted by the Taliban, and his death brought back memories of their friendship, including a rather remarkable journey to the US that Col. Z made to visit Major Bedestani a number of years ago. As I read the story, I reflected that perhaps Bedestani’s military career was a legacy of the discipline, work ethic, and loyalty that he experienced at Lawrenceville, but just as much, his unlikely friendship and deep sense of trust and kinship with Col. Z also may have had some roots in his Lawrenceville experience. After all, if we aim to live a life of high purpose, if we aim to use our gifts to “seek the best for all,” as our Mission says,

then trust and kinship should be able to thrive in the most unlikely places, across what feel like natural divides, across boundaries, across walls, real or imagined. Isn’t that what we aspire to as an institution dedicated to learning and understanding? Isn’t that the community we want to live in – isn’t that our school at its best? And as we think about the country we want to live in, indeed, the world we want to live in, don’t we need to seek to tear down what divides us by understanding and respecting differences, not fearing them? There is a place for fences in this world, because life is not risk free, and in some cases, clear boundaries may even help people to live side by side as good neighbors. But as the thoughtful farmer in the poem reminds us,

“Before I built a wall I’d ask to know What I was walling in or walling out, And to whom I was like to give offense.” Thank you very much.



Collaborating on Progress INJIL MUHAMMAD JR. ’17


nce I had walked down the stairs of the Heely Room in Memorial Hall and looked up to see a sea of teachers, administrators, coaches, and mentors, I truly realized the enormity of the situation. I, as the Student Body Vice President of Academics, was set to make a proposal to the entire faculty on a new way to relieve student stress. The Dean of Academics, Dr. Laws, and I had worked closely in private to present a sound proposition to be approved by the adults on campus, but at that moment it was all too real. I knew a majority of the faces in the crowd, but seeing them all at once, all focused on me with no other students to draw their attention away, was, to be frank,

absolutely terrifying. The proposal Dr. Laws and I had worked on was to provide each student with a card. The card would entitle a student, on the day an assignment was due, to receive an unannounced, non-negotiable, automatic twenty-four hour extension. We called the card “The 24-Hour Pass”. The presentation was controversial in and of itself because I, a student, was asking the teachers to relinquish some of their power and provide it to those over whom they had control. I gave about a three-minute presentation, nearly reading my notes word for word in order to not misspeak in the slightest. At the end, Dr. Laws gave the faculty the opportunity to ask questions.

“I, as the Student Body Vice President of Academics, was set to make a proposal to the entire faculty on a new way to relieve student stress.”



Instead of being afraid to defend my own ideas in front of those of people for whom I had so much respect, during the Q&A portion of the meeting I finally felt relaxed. The opportunity to engage in intellectual discussion as opposed to playing the role of the person at the front of the room delivering a lecture made me feel at home. Over the three prior years I had spent at Lawrenceville, I had been groomed to seek out the collaborative aspect of learning, the challenges presented by my teachers’ and peers’ stances, rather than easy acceptance and reiteration. What I found when I played the role of the person at the front of the room was that, actually, it wasn’t much different from sitting across from a colleague at the Harkness table. Once my presentation was over, everyone became both a student and a teacher. Not only did my understanding of Harkness learning inside the classroom prepare me for the experience of presenting in front of the entire faculty, but Harkness outside the



classroom did the same. I had been elected by my peers to be the liaison between the students and the faculty when it came to academic matters on campus, but that particular title could mean myriad things in practice. A peer of mine gave me the foundational idea of the twenty-four-hour card system, which I was then able to articulate to Dr. Laws, who then gave me the platform from which to present the idea directly to the faculty. After about thirty minutes of responding, along with Dr. Laws, to faculty questions, I left the room so that the faculty could vote on the proposal. Because of the challenging nature of many of the questions I had just faced, I did not feel very confident about the proposal’s chances of being approved; most teachers had interrogated me in a way that exposed flaws in the system I had presented and raised issues about its potential for successful implementation. However, the “24-Hour Pass” was approved.

The faculty had decided that a few simple adjustments would address their concerns. As I had so often experienced in my classes, Lawrenceville’s habits of Harkness thinking – of constructive-critical collaboration – had meant (as I guess I might have anticipated) that simply because an idea is challenged does not mean that it will automatically be rejected. In fact, it was the rigorous discourse that took place in the Heely Room that gave everyone involved in considering the proposal confidence that Lawrenceville had just discovered – and refined, with students and faculty working together – an idea worth pushing forward.

“Through the rigorous discourse that took place in the Heely Room...Lawrenceville had just discovered–and refined, with students and faculty working together – an idea worth pushing forward.” PERSPECTIVES


Silence As A Choice NICOLE CHENG ’17


s a new third former at Lawrenceville, I loathed the Harkness Table. One of the defining aspects of the school, the large oval wooden table absolutely

terrified me. Growing up, I had always been relatively quiet and introverted. I was raised in a culture that values hierarchy in order to maintain social harmony. Despite Taiwan’s recent democratization, the idea that correct answers lie within authority figures, such as teachers or doctors, remains long-ingrained in the Asian psyche. At Lawrenceville, my gregarious classmates jumped one after the other into heated

discussions while I sat tongue-tied, unable to contribute my ideas. I found myself fumbling with notes, struggling to keep up with the conversation, and having absolutely no idea how to get my own voice heard. I envied the way my peers spoke with such confidence and conviction, no matter whom they were talking to or what perspective they were presenting. On the rare occasion on which I did open my mouth to speak, my squeaky, inaudible voice was almost instantly drowned out by other classmates. I felt like an impostor at the table. It took months of struggle for me to feel comfortable speaking up. I observed my classmates closely, studying eye contact, hand gestures, body posture, and tone of voice,

“I have realized that the ability to stay quiet and listen thoughtfully is what separates effective discussion from mere expression.”

all in hopes of one day emulating all of that myself. While today I still retain elements of my introspective self, I eventually found my voice at the table–one I am confident to use whenever I choose to. Be that as it may, two years’ worth of discussions at the Harkness table have also taught me the undervalued power in silence. Initially I had viewed my quiet temperament as a weakness–my Achilles’ heel both at the Harkness table and within American society as a whole. Now I see it as an asset instead. Today I see my silence as a choice and not an impediment. My reflective personality allows me to assess other perspectives before presenting my own, and my inclination to listen helps me to develop rapport with those with whom I interact. I believe words hold more influence when used sparingly. Words enable us not only to express ourselves, but more importantly to connect and communicate with each other. I have realized that the ability to stay quiet and listen thoughtfully is what separates effective discussion from mere expression. PERSPECTIVES






awrenceville has amazing transformative powers. We fortunate people who live and work here, students and faculty alike, get to participate in a constant process of stretching and growing. Many forces contribute to the educational dynamism of this campus, but nobody who has taken up the joys of learning in this place, even for just a single day, could argue with the assertion that one of this community’s most important fuels is the fact that we are forever interacting with fellow Lawrentians from different backgrounds. Every day we get to share collective enterprises (class assignments, theater productions, games requiring us to compete with tough opponents) with people from all over this country and around the globe. As we set off together in pursuit of big questions, as we confer with one another to tackle challenging problems, we find ourselves considering responses that come from a host of perspectives, informed by a wide range

of cultures of origin, faith traditions, family histories, personal specialties and prevailing passions. Every such encounter extends and enriches both the individual’s experience and the school’s capacity for broadly informed thought and action. To set such dynamism in motion, our admissions professionals work hard to assemble a student body striking in its diversity. Of course, our commitment to social complexity raises important questions: How do we address the fact that a deliberately varied collection of people will include individuals from all over the introvert-extrovert spectrum? In a school

whose educational model demands active participation from every student, how do we support students whose first and strongest inclination when put into a group is to observe and listen? Such questions require a thoughtful response. As the late, great Grant Wiggins (one of America’s most important mentor teachers) used to suggest, a track coach can’t make a sprinter more effective simply by barking, “Run faster!” We classroom teachers know that we can’t miraculously make our more reticent students develop the gift of gab simply by exhorting them to talk more. First of all, we have to communicate the benefits, to both the individual and the group, of getting every member of a class to participate actively. Furthermore, we have to engineer opportunities for students who naturally gravitate into quiet-listening behaviors to share some of their thinking aloud. We also have to insist that students who naturally want to give voice to every thought sometimes hold back,

so that the classroom manifestly offers time and space in which everyone can, first, reflect and, then, weigh in. Before getting into the steps we take in order to encourage our more taciturn teenagers to find their voices, a key pair of questions: Why do so? Are we right to insist that every Lawrentian speak up? Actually, what we’re aiming for is something broader and deeper, a community in which we don’t just say to each kid, “Hey, put your thinking out there,” but, instead, “Get yourself—as well as your experiences, your various forms of expertise, your observations, your questions, your preliminary conclusions—

in here so that, together, we can take stock of all the intellectual resources at our disposal, subject them to collective critical review, identify the gaps in our knowledge base, and then slowly, systematically construct an appropriately complex understanding of this thing that we’re studying.” So how do we make that happen? How do we get everyone, even our quieter students, to participate in driving every little classroom community’s collective scholarly enterprise? First of all, before we even enter classrooms, we gather in houses and teams. In other words, we give students crucial opportunities in both their homes away from home and in skillbased affinity groups that they have usually selected for themselves to practice the art of interchange informally. Second, we convene small classes, sizing them so that universal participation is entirely feasible. Third, we design lesson plans that feature a form of shared problem-solving that can’t be



HARKNESS ESSENTIALS: FEEDBACK ON PREPARING FOR AND PARTICIPATING IN CLASS ENGLISH III / STUDENT:____________________________________________________ Reg = regularly / Some = sometimes / Rare = rarely / NY = not yet My observations have left me, so far, with the following impressions of your work before and in class. You… - arrive with all essential materials …including carefully annotated readings - meet deadlines (thereby facilitating effective group work)

Reg Reg Reg

Some Some Some

Rare Rare Rare


- listen attentively - listen generously, considering others’ ideas before evaluating them - ask questions and make challenges graciously, pursuing understanding (rather than victory)

Reg Reg Reg

Some Some Some

Rare Rare Rare


- take class notes to record key details, to keep track of important ideas - refer specifically and productively to key points from earlier in discussion - refer specifically and productively to key points from earlier discussions

Reg Reg Reg

Some Some Some

Rare Rare Rare


- share observations, ideas and questions on your own initiative …with appropriate timing and framing, in response to your classmates …in ways that are immediately relevant and productive

Reg Reg Reg

Some Some Some

Rare Rare Rare


- cite page and line numbers to facilitate closer reading and critical inquiry - share observations, ideas and questions in a spirit that invites inquiry - share feedback on others’ ideas in a way that promotes further dialogue

Reg Reg Reg

Some Some Some

Rare Rare Rare


- share ideas that reflect accurately the details to which you are pointing - share ideas that reflect ALL textual details and their logical implications - adapt your thinking when new information requires updating conclusions

Reg Reg Reg

Some Some Some

Rare Rare Rare



! = to an exemplary degree / True / NY = not yet

- contribute enough (quantitatively and/or qualitatively) to “carry your weight” - talk enough to make a substantial contribution to group inquiry and understanding - manage your participation so that other students get appropriate “air time”

! ! !

True True True


optimally productive without every student’s involvement. For example: I’m an English teacher. When I assign prep work, I don’t say, “Just read pages 23-41 and think about what you see there.” I give more explicit directions, something such as, “As you move through the details of Chapter II, keep track of any details that, to your eye, suggest that we need to complicate the conclusions that we’ve formed so far about the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. X.” Such a prompt is sufficiently generic not to do too much thinking for the students; it demands that they read independently and, furthermore, allows them to form their own conclusions. But here’s the key point: Such a prompt insists, as the students read, that they subject their previous ideas to critical scrutiny. And, of course, when class begins, such a prompt makes it necessary for the group to put our present pet ideas “under the microscope” for rigorous testing and, when new or now-better-understood evidence requires, to move toward updated conclusions

that align more accurately with all of the details we’ve encountered in our text. Such a process of shared study and collective critical thinking can only produce properly complex, empirically confirmable understandings if all members of a class—from the most loquacious to the most laconic—observe and ruminate in their own particular ways and then put their observations and preliminary ideas on the table. Fourth, we offer explicit guidance regarding effective preparation and participation. The rubric included here is what we use in English III. By asking students to apply these criteria in assessing their own prep and participation efforts, we help them to internalize skills and sensibilities essential to their success both at their personal desks and at the Harkness table. By using the rubric ourselves to provide feedback (usually in Week 2 or 3, again in Week 4 or 5, and once more in Week 7 or 8 of a ten-week term), we can both affirm the kids’ best habits and also alert them to key new fronts on which to experiment in

order to expand their capacities. One of the things we see again and again is that students who have hesitated before to commit to active participation can suddenly make big breakthroughs as thinkers and writers by presenting their ideas more consistently in class. Why? Because in voicing their claims and practicing on-the-spot explications of their thinking, they both develop more fluency with these essential skills and also get live feedback from their peers that helps them to consider an ever-wider range of tactics to consider in exploring a challenging text (or, in another discipline, in responding to a thorny problem). Fifth, we engineer opportunities for students to learn in smaller groups, so that they get more frequent, active practice at self-initiated, self-regulated interchange. Clearly, setting students in motion in pairs, trios and quartets gives our young scholars more chances to turn gut hunches into fully articulated questions and arguments. Obviously, if a class of fourteen breaks out into two threesomes and two



foursomes, more kids can practice key skills at the same time. It is only through focused, regular practice that we human beings can deepen good habits, advancing our skills. Furthermore, breaking out into threes and fours allows such practice to occur without the same degree of self-consciousness that the shyest kids often find stultifying when they first try to figure out how to hold forth to a group of fourteen. Finally, whenever we sense the need, we invite our most consistently silent, perhaps uncomfortable, students to join us for private chats about what they are experiencing in the classroom. We do everything we can to enter into such chats in a spirit of open inquiry. We try to make it clear to these kids that we’re interested in them, not after them; that we’re eager to team up in order to propel them forward, not to single them out in order to put them down. I can’t count anymore the number of times when (so long as I’ve approached such a conversation with the necessary warmth) a



“wallflower” kid has expressed gratitude for and relief regarding my solicitude. Sometimes, of course, that isn’t the case. Sometimes my first efforts to open up a conversation trigger unease. But so long as I remind the student, “This is a Harkness school, one in which everyone needs to contribute; moreover, one that needs YOU specifically, because you’re the only one who can offer your particular mix of past experience and present perspective,” it never takes long to get a seemingly intractable dynamic to begin to shift. Usually, my next move is to make clear that the student is not alone in bearing responsibility for his or her successful participation. I tend to ask as quickly as I can, “What can I do to help you to feel more comfortable? How can we join forces to shift the dynamic so that you can see and respond to clear opportunities to get into the mix?” Sometimes the solution, at least during this student’s initial period of venturing outward, is for us to agree upon a secret signal that s/he can flash my way when it would

be helpful for me to create some time and space. Sometimes the right move is for me to create pauses in class for reflective writing and, before drawing such a pause to a close, to declare, “Now, remember, everybody: I’m expecting those of you who haven’t yet had an opportunity to contribute to share something potentially helpful that you have discovered during this period of reflection.” Honestly, one of the most helpful moves we often make is to insist that the expectation of universal participation isn’t going to go away. “In effect,” we’ll say, “this is a swimming program, and we can’t teach you to swim if we let you spend the whole term on the side of the pool.” A few follow-up questions usually help even more. First: “At this point, is it fair to say that you’ve done small-group work with every other member of the class?” “Yes.” Second: “When you’ve worked in pairs, trios and quartets, have you been partnered with anyone who didn’t take an active interest in your ideas?” “No.” Third: “Do you think it’s

“This is a Harkness school, one in which everyone needs to contribute; moreover, one that needs YOU specifically, because you’re the only one who can offer your particular mix of past experience and present perspective.”

reasonable, then, for you to consider the people around you respectful, supportive colleagues?” “Yes.” Fourth: “Do you feel that our prep assignments and class prompts give you a fair shot at entering discussions meaningfully informed and prepared?” “Yes.” Fifth: “Upon further reflection, does it really strike you as so hard to share at least a little bit of your thinking with this group?” “No.” Sixth: “How about you do this: Don’t think of yourself as operating alone, as diving into deep water all by yourself. Think of yourself as well equipped to do your job, and keep yourself that way. Keep doing your homework. Keep listening carefully to our interchanges at the table. Turn participation into three simple tasks, all small. In the first fifteen minutes of class, share an observation that you made while reading that you can use to sharpen our awareness of some little but important, easy-to-overlook detail of the text. In the second fifteen minutes, share a question that you’ve designed while consulting your class notes, a question aimed



at eliciting from a classmate further elucidation of something intriguing that s/he’s said. In the final twenty to twenty-five minutes, propose a connection integrating what Classmate A said and what Classmate B said and offering your own first take on what A+B might add up to.” I opened by asserting that Lawrenceville has amazing transformative powers. That’s true. But I would propose that it is even more deeply true that those powers aren’t intrinsically the school’s. The real magic ingredient comes here from all over this nation and around the world. When, with genuine care, through a few simple moves, we can encourage all of our remarkable young people to contribute— when we can get even our initially tentative “wallflowers” to take the floor and participate in the Big Red dance—that’s when we experience the richest version of living and learning together to expand our minds.

2017-18 Perspectives  
2017-18 Perspectives