'Quite a table': A student reflects

A professor-turned-pupil looks back on his week at Exeter Humanities Institute.

July 11, 2018
Educators hold a discussion around the Harkness table during the 2018 Exeter Harkness Institute.

Educators hold a discussion around the Harkness table during the 2018 summer teachers conferences. 

A professional development conference that leaves you nearly ready to cry like it’s move-out day at summer camp when they tell you it’s over? Really? Yes, Exeter Humanities Institute can have that effect on people.

The weeklong confab that turns educators into students is immersive and community building by design. Participants complete nightly homework assignments, live in dorm rooms, eat in the dining hall together and spend hours discussing texts and life in classroom workshops. As one conference goer noted, it’s whole-hog Harkness.

On the final day of this year’s EHI, English Instructor Becky Moore asked her teachers-cum-students to reflect on their last five days. What was it like to learn something new and to share ideas with people you were unfamiliar with, she asked. What will you take away from your time spent around this large, oval table?

The class took the next 10 minutes or so to write in silence. Here is what EHI participant William Robert, an associate religion professor at Syracuse University, penned, unedited, in the final moments of Moore’s class.

“It’s kind of amazing how much has happened at this table, across this table, maybe because of this table. The vectors over its grains connect us in ways not anticipated, and with learning — about Harkness, about teaching, about each other, about ourselves — not anticipatable. Things happen at the table. People come, they bring themselves to the table, and things happen. Learning happens, between and across and around us. And that learning is in dissociable from the humans who did the learning, who generated it, made it happen. “Who” and “what” and “how” mix and mingle. So, remembering these days means remembering these humans, and the learning we did together. Growth? Maybe. Transformation for sure, deepening into spaces now opened, now open, into which learning pools, flows. Learning, transformation, table: maybe they’re weird sorts of synonyms, or somehow bound together, interwoven, connected. I want to remember this. I want to remember this feeling, how this learning feels, who these humans have become together. I want to remember, to track, these ways of learning, thoroughly human, yet also a little superhuman, growing (there’s that word) from connections made through texts, through contexts, through contacts — personal, affective, embodied, epistemic. It’s kind of amazing how this table brought all this together, and let it unfold, carrying us along — so that now, we are a kind of “we." And we are now somewhere else. Quite a table.”

Exeter hosts eight professional development conferences on campus during the summer. These intensive one-week workshops attract more than 450 teachers from a broad spectrum of schools, including private, parochial and public schools in the U.S. and abroad. All based on Harkness learning concepts, the conferences focus on specific subjects, including science, Shakespeare, writing, environmental literature and diversity. To learn more visit: Exeter for Educators.