The Harkness Gift

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."

Ultimately, the “revolution” became known as Harkness teaching, in which a teacher and a group of students work collectively and in support of each other as they exchange ideas and information around a table.

Over the decades, Exeter has shared the excitement and power of the Harkness classroom with teachers and schools around the country. But it’s safe to say that Exeter remains uniquely committed to this extraordinary approach: Everything we do — our classes, our activities, our way of relating to each other — is influenced by the respect, enthusiasm, and challenge involved in learning together around a table.

Play

Designing the Table

The evolution of the oval table.

Harkness is...

a way of life here.

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