An immense river of oblivion is sweeping us away into a nameless abyss.
-Ernest Renan, 1883
Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plans.
The present condition of American education, long-eroding its Judeo-Christian origins, does not teach, it agendizes. It does not promote critical thinking, it mandates mediocrity. Education is no longer as illuminating as it had once been. It has become humanistic, unilateral, prosaic, and, thus, diluted.
We are committed to imbuing students with Godly confidence and intellectual resolution to present the Christian faith positively and its perspective decisively. At The Branch School this requires the highest level of academic performance enveloped in biblical truth—and the priceless ability and guidance they afford. Our desire is to assist in the grooming of tomorrow’s leaders.
Less malignant, but not at all benign, our school systems seem more engaged in superficial knowledge, teaching to the test. They mechanically harp on the nominal amount of facts and reasoning as is necessary to fulfill mandates and guidelines, adhering to standards so micromanaged that teachers can hardly teach for the amount of bureaucratic encumbrances they daily endure. Teaching to the test is not educating, it is training young people to fill in circles with a Number 2 pencil, not really understanding the reasons for the correct responses.
A new direction for an older school
I give you sound learning, so do not forsake my teaching.
As knowledge increases, wonder deepens.
In 2011 and 2012, The Branch School affected significant redefinition, reorganization, and reconstruction of its program, curriculum, and operations. We recognized the disconnection and consequent gap in other middle school levels, and the potential loss of respectable, adept, and energetic young people to the cultural wasteland. As a result, we prayerfully established an intensive and meaningful program of serious academic study, amplified by biblical support, uniquely presented. In this vital new direction, we are enthusiastic to navigate young people, devoted to academic and spiritual studies, through scholarly learning in demanding, yet invigorating courses.
The very distinctive nature and character of teaching and learning at The Branch School have been categorized to provide a glimpse at a school that is significantly different than most other area schools, public and private. Some sections are more detailed than others because of the significance of their content. The following depicts some impacting elements which differentiate our program, delivery, and style from others—
Employment of a modified Harkness academic method
How tabling the discussion is actually a good thing.
Nothing in education is so astonishing as the amount of ignorance it accumulates in the form of inert facts.
–Henry Brooks Adams, 1907
Typically, students are wedged between egalitarian social agenda tilting at windmills, and, teaching to the test. Observably, quality teachers and administrators become stultified and, thus, tremendous students become silently disenfranchised.
Typically, schools expect two vertical feet of bookwork to be successfully completed from sixteen inch desk armrests, or from overcrowded folding tables with even less working space. Both exemplify anticipation of maximum product from minimum conditions. The result is 30-plus students now having a 48-minute gabfest.
Typically, the past forty years have made students less scholastically prepared —perfect for the entropic society in which they must live and work. Add the persistent unraveling of social morality and personal responsibility to the technological trend toward prosaic thinking, and evident are reasons why the demise of culture relates to the purposeful pattern of academic decline. We have seen the future, the Grave New World, and it does not work.
What does work…
Established, designed, developed, and successfully implemented at Phillips Exeter Academy over eighty years ago, the Harkness method breeds success in whatever life endeavor an individual enters. The signature physical characteristic of learning is found at The Harkness Table, a substantial oval table, where substantial learning and teaching play out each day.
Its design offers equal visual and verbal access between all participating in the daily academic sessions. The course teacher is also an integral member of the table, serving similarly as both instructor and moderator in a panel or conference discussion. Cross-dialogue is open and encouraged. Thus, discourse evolves, from which significant learning flourishes, among enlivened, well-prepared students, and equally excited and exceptional teachers.
Harkness is more than a table. It is a turning point.
The Branch School has adopted this approach to learning. Harkness represents the reversal of educational stagnation. It focuses upon comprehensive knowledge through deep study and such cross-dialogue. Substantive information is shared, evaluated, interpreted, and appositely debated. That makes it exceptional, which means that it is quite valuable. Delivered aptly and received accordingly, over time the ambit of students’ knowledge, projection of inner confidence, belief in a strong, responsible work ethic, and overall personal presentation are of the highest quality.
Students are more responsible for their studies and presentation at the table, in part because of the appreciable amount of preparation required to participate. In this sense, preparation is not typified in homework assignments, which echo class lectures in a game of go-and-get. It is a continuum from the day’s notations which lead to research that very evening, so to advance the topical discussions the next day.
An interesting dynamic occurs over a period of time: students assist one another, strengthening comprehension for the benefit of all. As the year progresses, this takes on the characteristic of students mentoring each other, individually and in session. They are able to do this resultant from the commitment and measure of preparative study they have done themselves. To be certain, Harkness matures thinking and urges responsibility. This sharing with colleagues better identifies and connects students to their education, a significant step in both academic and personal growth.
More oars sculling together in the water make the dory easier to row…
Throughout the year, some courses will require special projects, some detailed and complex, whereupon students form concentrated study groups in order to complete and present an important assignment with quality results. These projects will be appropriate for the grade level in which they are assigned, reflective of prior examination and discussion within the semester quarter. Students will be given ample time and assistant materials, and the project steps will be guided.
There are several benefits derived from the study group projects. Students learn more effective research techniques, compilation and management of attainable information, evaluation and analysis, as well as the necessity for the delineation and coordination of efforts. This concept shapes and refines talents, builds confidence, formulates consensus, and encourages trust and supportiveness, all in preparation for future usage in study, work, and life.
We esteem this approach for a number of reasons.
Principal among them is that students undertaking joint efforts to understand topical study have the benefit of more exhaustive coverage of the material. This derives from the amount of shared quality research mandated for meaningful dialogue. Students quickly realize they are both expected and stimulated to articulate their thoughts and input in a clear and effective way, whether written or verbal. This is a huge step in building their mastery of study and resultant personal confidence.
The Branch School teachers have familiarity and varied experience in this style of education. We have tailored the academic method to meet the quality, capacity, and character of the student body. It is thrilling to observe students aligning with this modified program, to not only take independent responsibility for the topical scope of their studies, but to openly share their learning at the table. It is this academic strategy that orients, directs, and provides the entire program delivery at The Branch.