Modern education is antiquated. According to Cathy Davidson, Author of The New Education, America’s current infrastructure, curriculums, and assessment methods in education haven’t changed much since 1925; letter grades, standardized tests, and same-paced learning were developed in the industrial age as a means to educate a large population en masse. As we navigate in the digital age, the same traditional models of education continue to dominate the way schools teach, ignoring the individuality of a student’s way of learning. As a result, studies show that students aren’t truly learning in school. In the article Degrading to De-grading, Alfie Kohn concluded that grades tend to reduce both students’ interest in learning itself as well as the quality of students’ thinking.
Head of School Mr. Looney recognizes the gravity of this issue, stating that the current education model is “obsolete” and ineffective in preparing students for the real world. Mr. Looney hence created the Mastery Transcript Consortium, a global coalition of schools seeking to redesign modern education. As one small part of this huge effort, Ms. Griffin and Mr. Looney decided to co-teach an intensive called Design the Ideal High School last fall. In this intensive, around twenty of my classmates and I were tasked to design the curriculum of the Mastery School of Hawken located in University Circle. Mr. Looney explained that this new school needs three key “ingredients”: 1) Organized around real-world problem-solving. 2) Uses an “Apprenticeship” method of teaching. 3) Assesses students with Mastery credits rather than grades. In order for the intensive students to have a better idea of how to incorporate these ingredients into the design of the school, the class traveled to San Francisco for a week to gain a more comprehensive view of what an ideal education ought to look like.
During our time in the Bay Area, we visited high schools with non-traditional curriculums, such as Summit Prep School, the Bay School of San Francisco, and the Khan Lab School. We talked to administrators, teachers, and students there to understand the different programs in place and how they improved student learning. We also visited the Stanford Graduate School of Education and discussed with Dr. Jo Boaler and Dr. Denis Pope about the challenges in redesigning modern education. Of course, we had to visit Silicon Valley. During our time at Apple and Google, we tried to understand what employers looked for in an ideal education.
With all these conversations and perspectives in mind, students spent the week after working on their design which was then presented to Hawken’s Board of Trustees on the last day of intensives. While each group worked independently, all groups agreed on a common understanding that students had to be granted more autonomy in deciding what they wanted to learn. Additionally, all groups agreed on ditching the traditional block system and each had their own variation of macro courses with a similar format to Hawken’s existing entrepreneurship and engineering semester programs. Both Ms. Griffin and Mr. Looney were amazed by the student work and incorporated many student ideas into the final model of the Mastery School’s curriculum. In addition to having macro courses, Mr. Looney explained during a school meeting that the new Mastery School will feature a Pathways Program--an idea from the student group Study Buddies featuring Connor Fricke, Emma Mansoor, Siddarth Engineer, and Samia Menon. The main idea of Pathways is to provide students with individualized guidance and support to pursue a personal passion in the real world, comparable to a combination of a Hawken Project and independent studies. Depending on how much guidance the students hope to receive, they could either work individually or in groups, with the teacher selecting teaching materials or the students selecting learning materials with teacher approval. Additionally, the Mastery School will be using the Mastery Transcript, which would be offered as an option at the Gates Mills campus soon. Mr. Looney has also indicated that Gates Mills student may have an option to study at the Mastery School as a semester abroad.
With the creation of a new school comes many logistical concerns, one being the faculty of the new school. As the Director of the Mastery School of Hawken, Ms. Griffin is coordinating with other Hawken faculty in training and recruiting new teachers. However, Mr. Looney has also expressed that given many teachers have already taught macro courses, the new school would be seeing a faculty team with rich experience in teaching unconventional courses. For example, Ms. Zielinski who now teaches architecture at Gates Mills has suggested that she may be leading an architecture macro course at the Mastery School. Another logistical concern would student admissions. Mr. Looney explained that the new school would start only with a freshmen class in 2020, with the intention of gradually building the school up with all four grades by 2024. In April of this year, Hawken will be hosting an open house in University Circle as well for prospective students and their families.
Ms. Griffin and Mr. Looney believe that there are still many more details to be fleshed out before the opening. Plans about after-school activities and connection to the Gates Mills campus are still being explored. However, with all these upcoming challenges, Ms. Griffin is optimistic about the change the Mastery School could bring to the field of education: “This is a moment that is right for Hawken to develop a model that could be used in different local settings.”
Looking back to the founder of our school, Mr. Hawken said in 1920 that “Nature does not develop the child’s faculties according to a general plan; and when [we] attempt to educate children en masse, and irrespective of the discrimination which nature has made in each individual of the group, their efforts must necessarily be futile.” Perhaps a century later in 2020, the opening of the Mastery School will finally reflect what Mr. Hawken intended school to be.