BCDS at the Forefront of “The New Progressivism”

An editorial by Peter Gow, Beaver’s Director of College Counseling, appears in the Commentary section of the online edition of Education Week (4/29/08). Entitled “The New Progressivism Is Here,” the article charts a renewed interest in progressive education among independent schools seeking to counteract what Mr. Gow terms the “test-driven, three-R’s-focused, teacher-loathing model of schooling, most succinctly represented by the doublespeak of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.”

At the annual NAIS conference in February, Mr. Gow and I met a raft of other educators from independent schools that have adopted the progressive ideals upon which BCDS was founded, among them:

Assessment against high standards
Professional development
Real-world connections
Multiculturalism as a process, not a program
Character and creativity
Civic engagement
Technology as a tool

Another Mention of BCDS in Recent National Publication:

An article (“Advancing Beyond AP Courses”) published in the Chronicle of Higher Education (5/2/08) cites a BCDS English elective as an AP alternative that challenges students to engage more deeply with the subject matter:
o “At Beaver Country Day School, in Boston, a course on ‘Shakespeare’s Comedies’ asks students to read and write sonnets, study plays, and participate in acting workshops. The purpose, according to the teacher, is ‘to experience the plays on our feet, directing and acting out individual scenes.’”*

The Shakespeare elective, which will be offered as a senior elective next fall, is just one example of the way BCDS teachers design courses that stress depth over breadth and encourage students to actively engage with the material. BCDS is among an increasing number of independent schools that have jettisoned AP courses in favor of equally challenging advanced courses of their own design. As the article states:

“A core fallacy of AP lies in its coverage of large bodies of facts and concepts that students must retain long enough to take a three-hour exam. Modern neuroscience research has shown that fast-paced, serial coverage of topics is unlikely to produce durable understanding. The deepest knowledge results when students have significant control of the learning process, and when fewer topics are studied in greater depth.”

* Full course description: Shakespeare intended his poetry to live and breathe, and he intended his plays to be a communal, vibrant experience shared between actors and audiences. We will open the term with sonnets; we will read some of Shakespeare’s, and we will write some of our own. From there we will move on to one of his most entertaining comedies, Much Ado about Nothing. After discovering which plays the class is most excited to experience, we will select and read two additional comedies.

Throughout our course, our focus will be on connecting with the living energy of Shakespeare’s words, characters, and themes. After all, the issues Shakespeare explored in his plays still concern us today: the exhilaration, humor and dangers of love; the glories and suffering of war; the intricacies and ugliness of prejudice; the human need to find meaning in life. We will use the double blocks for acting workshops, which will allow us to experience the plays on our feet, directing and acting out individual scenes from the plays. (No acting experience is required, and no memorization is assigned. Student acting will be assessed entirely on effort.) We will view contemporary film versions of his plays, and, even better, we will attend local theatrical productions.

All students will complete two 5-7 page essays. In addition, honors students will read a critical and/or historical essay on the play of their choice; they will write a 2-4 page summary and critique of that scholar’s interpretation of the play, and they will lead a class discussion on that play. Honors students will also operate as leaders in daily class discussions and acting workshops.

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