Lawrenceville and Lectures, A Love Story

There are two types of knowledge, “book smarts” and “street smarts.” Few question Lawrenceville’s mastery of the former, but the latter presents a different situation.

For outside of the classroom lies a whole separate world in which academics can only get you so far. There is another type of knowledge required that can’t be taught at a Harkness table or acquired from a book. Or can it?

Each year, Lawrenceville subjects its students to a different lesson series in an attempt to teach each grade a different extracurricular skill. Freshmen are given the weekly II Form Meetings during Tuesday Consultation in which they are given talks on everything from ethics to architecture to religion to behavioral issues. Come III Form year, the School introduces the mid-winter drug abuse lectures. Inviting an expert on the topic to give a week-long instruction, the School seeks to educate the III form class on the perils of alcohol and drug consumption. IV Formers, meanwhile, see their Christmas vacations cut a day short to hear a motivational leadership impart his words of wisdom on how we might become “leaders” among our peers.

The intent of these series is clear and admirable. The II Form consultation meetings are designed to introduce life skills, while the next two years discuss how to apply them. The drug lectures are a harsher, preventative topic, which tell us what not to do with our influence, while the leadership talk tells us what to do with that same influence. By the time they reach the V Form, all students have become leaders “whether or not they lead a club,” according to the administration. As role models of the school, they set the beat to which the rest of the student body marches. And should they choose to pursue a path of self-destructive tendencies, so the community will follow.

But as with most things, intent does not necessarily translate into reality. The de facto experience with the multiple lecture series does little to promote maturity and development among the students. Despite the II Form meetings’ emphasis on plurality, depriving students of consult and lecturing them once a week for an entire year does little to encourage the students to embrace the value. The one thing I do remember distinctly from the meetings was a tidbit of advice from Mr. Daniell, in which he explained to the boys present that if we ever wanted to be taken seriously, we shouldn’t wear a bowtie.

For me, the drug lectures had a similar effect. We were told stories of hyper-addictive patients right before the lecturer went on to justify the use of drugs for spiritual purposes. One year later, the one-hour leadership discussion junior year taught us less about becoming a leader than about thinking outside the box and being a good citizen overall.

However, the problem of the lecture series is not in the content of the talks. We could change the speakers, but we still wouldn’t see a difference. The problem is that these skills cannot be taught—at least not through an adult spewing out words before a crowd of students forced to be present. Lectures can never achieve long-term success, by virtue of being lectures.

The logical solution is a practical, hands-on approach. Rather than being told about plurality, students should partake in activities where they can practice it. Hearing about the dangers of drugs or the merits of thinking outside the box is not adequate preparation for real-life scenarios.

Moreover, lecturing is not only ineffective, but it also often achieves the adverse affect. Following the drug-abuse lectures, more than one student announced that they would be more likely to do drugs at that point. The lesson’s emphasis must not be on the adult figure, but on the student himself. Otherwise the student feels indistinguishable from all his peers.

Frankly, Lawrenceville should know better. The very fact that we have Harkness tables reflects the School’s understanding of the efficacy of a student-centered learning process as opposed to a lecture-centered one. Perhaps that explains why the School has mastered academics skills and fallen behind when it comes to real-life skills. Thus, the next step is for the school to extend the Harkness mentality to our extracurricular learning. Application, not presentation, is the only reasonable answer.