On April 9, 1930, philanthropist Edward Harkness spoke to Exeter's Principal Lewis Perry regarding how a substantial donation he had made to the Academy might be used:
"What I have in mind is teaching boys in sections of about eight in a section . . . where boys could sit around a table with a teacher who would talk with them and instruct them by a sort of tutorial or conference method, where the average or below average boy would feel encouraged to speak up, present his difficulties, and the teacher would know . . what his difficulties were. . . This would be a real revolution in methods."
The result was "Harkness Teaching," in which a teacher and a group of students work together, exchanging ideas and information, around a table.
But wait! Making the first table wasn’t as easy as you might think.
Making It Work
When Mr. Harkness tried out the first Harkness table, he couldn’t see the eyes of every other person around the table. How can you have a meaningful discussion if you can’t see the eyes of the people you’re talking to? It was then the table was redesigned to be oval.
But another problem surfaced. The oval tables were too big to fit through Exeter’s doorways. The solution: builders brought their materials to the classrooms and constructed the tables inside. This means that Harkness Tables really are part of the rooms in which Exeter’s community learns, teaches, discusses, and collaborates.
The Harkness Story: Chapter 1
Wealth & Character
The Harkness Story: Chapter 2
Learning and Giving
The Harkness Story: Chapter 3
Ed & Lewis
The Harkness Story: Chapter 4