Tang Institute Re-Imagines Education with the School Within a School

According to the Andover website, Thomas Carroll, a member of the U.S. Department of Education, posed the question, “If we didn’t have the schools we have today, would we create the schools we have today?” In order to answer this question, the Tang Institute announced the School Within a School program for the spring term of the 2019-2020 academic year.

During the School Within a School’s implementation, five Tang fellows will spend a year working with a group of Seniors to research and reflect on the fundamental components of education: “student learning, assessment, grading, and time,” according to the Andover website.

In a January 16 blog post on the Andover website, Head of School John Palfrey wrote of his enthusiasm for the new program.

“The School Within a School is an opportunity for faculty to learn and collaborate alongside students, trying out new educational ideas while forging meaningful connections between our on-campus curriculum and our local and global partners,” wrote Palfrey.

Nicholas Zufelt, Instructor in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science, is one of the Tang Fellows who will be taking part in the School Within a School. He explained its general structure as a project for approximately 15 to 20 students students and five to eight faculty members in their efforts to collaborate on a comprehensive learning experience during the spring.

“The learning will be project-based, including leaving campus as needed to work with people outside of [Andover]. We will be spending time thinking extremely hard about the essential elements of good learning, only keeping from traditional education that which serves us well,” wrote Zufelt in an email to The Phillipian.

In order to explore new possibilities for Andover education and experiment with uncommon flexibility in scheduling, student participation in the School Within a School will be optional. For those who choose to commit to the program, however, full commitment is expected. The commitment ensures tremendous curriculum flexibility and freedom for participants, and students will have no other academic commitments or conflicts.

According to the Andover website, the School Within a School also aims to look at certain topical issues from different perspectives, among which is the topic of food systems. Students will ask questions about the ethics of meat consumption and food production as well as the consequences of their diet on climate change.

For better insight into food systems, Andrew Housiaux, Currie Family Director of the Tang Institute and Instructor in Philosophy and Religious Studies, and Michael Barker, Director of Academy Research, Information, and Library Services, connected with Jennifer Hashley of New Entry Sustainable Farm Project through Eli Newell ’20. Newell, who has worked on Hashley’s husband’s farm for three years, was curious to this request and soon got involved with School Within a School.

“It’s important to always be questioning what we’re doing, thinking about as Mr. Housiaux says, [quoting Carroll], if we didn’t have the schools that we have today, is this how we would create them? And it is always, I think with everything we’re doing, worth asking that question, and exploring in this case, other ways to approach education,” said Newell.

Zufelt shared Newell’s sentiment about attempting to improve the current educational system.

“Nothing is allowed to linger indefinitely in the world without changing, why should education be any different? If we want to deliver the best education possible, then we need to be actively focused on continually discovering what that is. This program puts that iterative process on overdrive,” wrote Zufelt.

In addition to focusing largely within its own parameters, the School Within a School is also collaborating with the Community Engagement Office to observe how off-campus activities and experiences can enhance a student’s education.

Monique Cueto-Potts, Director of Community Engagement, spoke to this partnership as a way to apply skills learned in school to real-world situations.

“We hope our students and teachers see our community partners as sources of knowledge and expertise in areas that they are studying in the classrooms. Community engagement combined with classroom learning is something we always want to see more of on campus because the two together can provide meaningful experiences for students and teachers that they can’t always get with just one of those two,” wrote Cueto-Potts.

Corrie Martin, Instructor in English, was particularly interested in the idea of how Andover fits the role of a “private school with a public purpose” in regards to the School Within a School.  

“I think it’s important to take this chance to reimagine what education could be like because as an institution we have the privilege of being able to take risks, to go big and to do it well, leveraging our resources, connections and networks both on and off campus. [Andover] has a long history of innovating, of challenging itself to confront problems of social justice and equity, and this effort is part of that,” said Martin.