Evaluating Our Education

Our tour guides certainly have much that they can boast about when talking about Lawrenceville.

Our tour guides certainly have much that they can boast about when talking about Lawrenceville. As one emerges from Pop Hall, it may be the stunning new Gruss Center for Art and Design, complete with its state of the art technology and glistening glass exterior. For another, it may be the strength of our students’ House spirit—pride that, for many, endures long after graduation. For some it may be the opportunities students have to explore the world through our Harkness Travel Program. As a tour guide, I’ve always made a concerted effort to emphasize the breadth of academic course offerings that we have. “You could spend an entire day reading through the topics of study that Lawrenceville students have access to,” I’ll often joke to prospective students and families. In fact, it could take years for a Lawrentian to experience the entirety of Lawrenceville’s curriculum.

Unfortunately, though, our 79-page Course Catalog is one of the most underutilized aspects of the Lawrenceville experience. While high school students across the country find themselves loading their schedules with as many AP courses as possible, we here at Lawrenceville are in an incredible position to explore fields of study that many will not have access to until late in their undergraduate years. While many teachers outside of Lawrenceville are forced to meet governmentally set academic benchmarks, our faculty have the ability to create, design, and teach courses on topics of their expertise that they have a deep passion for. To put this into perspective, the English Department of my hometown school district's public high school offers six courses for seniors, while Lawrenceville offers 42 V Form English electives, excluding interdisciplinary courses. Yet, of these 42 courses, most Lawrenceville students will only ever have the opportunity to enroll in three.

The current curriculum pathways that exist at Lawrenceville, specifically within the English and History Departments, stifle students’ abilities to truly take advantage of the rich array of academic offerings that the School provides. The primary purpose of these foundational courses—II Form Humanities - English and Humanities - Cultural Studies along with III Form English III and Forces that Shaped the Modern World—is to introduce and develop critical writing, reading, and verbal skills that the discipline requires in order to prepare students for success in the more advanced courses within the departments. From here, students continue on along the curriculum pathway, taking a course in United States history along with a three-term sequence of IV Form English. As a result of this rigid three-year foundation, many students find themselves with just one year to pursue courses on topics that genuinely interest them. This time constraint, compounded with an underlying pressure for many to take full-year courses that seem more rigorous than electives, significantly limits students’ ability to explore Lawrenceville’s academic breadth.

In these foundational classes, course content itself is not as much of a focus for teachers as are the skills built along the way. Thus, new III Formers could still develop the necessary skills introduced to II Formers in spite of material adjustments. The III and IV Form English curricula could easily be condensed and merged into a single III Form course, while the skills developed in II Form Humanities - Cultural Studies could be transferred to Forces that Shaped the Modern World and built upon in a United States history course during the III Form year. By following a structure similar to that of the Science Department, which offers a two-year foundational course sequence rather than a three-year one, the English and History Departments would bestow upon students a significantly greater capacity to design an academic experience uniquely tailored to them, a currently lost characteristic of a Lawrenceville education.

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