Harkness Learning

How do people learn best? We can learn a lot by listening respectfully when others report what they have observed, but we learn better when we combine such attention with taking action, operating not just as audience members but as explorers committed to direct experience. We can arrive at some measure of understanding by studying alone, but we comprehend complex phenomena more fully when we join others in a process of connection-making and reflection.


Recognizing the benefits of a more active, collaborative kind of learning, in the summer of 1936 educational philanthropist Edward S. Harkness helped Lawrenceville to reconfigure our classrooms around conference tables that replaced lecture and memorization with shared discovery.

Since then, whatever tools and methods we have adopted—from science labs to language labs, from discussion boards to SmartBoards—have been aimed at getting our students to learn and think for themselves, then to subject preliminary understandings to critical review.

Lawrenceville’s educational focus, then, is not on teaching what to know but on learning how to think. And the key to our success is every Lawrentian’s commitment to approaching the work of school with an entrepreneurial spirit. An assignment or class isn’t just something to get through; it is something to get into, an opportunity to make things happen. How? Take an interest. Take responsibility. Take part.