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Meet the Exeter Humanities Institute Leadership Team

Kwasi Boadi, Instructor in History

Instructor in History Kwasi BoadiB.S., University of Cape Coast, Ghana; M.S., Laurentian University, Canada; Ph.D., Howard University

Originally from Ghana, Kwasi joined the Phillips Exeter Academy History faculty in 2006, having previously taught at the Maya Angelou Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. and Wellesley College. He teaches U.S. history and senior elective courses in African history and development economics. He holds the Michael Ridder’58 Professorship in History.

Born and raised in an Africa which until recently historians characterized as a-historical or without history, other than the history of Europeans in the continent, I couldn’t help but adopt skepticism as an essential tool in the study of history. I am always on the look-out for what may have been omitted or marginalized in any given text. Both at the table and in writing, I encourage my students to always imagine, acknowledge, and demonstrate understanding of the other perspective or interpretation, even as they disagree with it. As a holistic and cooperative endeavor, Harkness pedagogy saves us from “the mortal sin of righteousness and extremism.”

Jane Cadwell, Instructor in English

Instructor in English Jane CadwellB.A., Williams College; M.A.T., Smith College; M. Litt., Middlebury College

Jane joined the Phillips Exeter Academy faculty in1993, having taught previously at Georgetown Day School in Washington, DC. She recently returned to the classroom after having served as the Dean of Academic Affairs for five years. Jane teaches all levels of English and has coached boys' tennis and squash.

In my experience around the table, the best Harkness classes are those in which my students see the text under discussion as a very small package, a present of sorts, which holds within it a gift that when opened will become much much too big for the box that it originally came in. I suggest to my students that every poem or essay or novel or play should always be “bigger” when they leave the Harkness table than it was when they arrived. By the end of their discussion, the literature should be more complex, perhaps more confusing; they should have more questions about it, more interpretations and a much wider perspective on it.  In order to make the literature as “big” as possible, everyone is required to add something to the discussion; they must be willing to give up their urge to whittle the work down to a manageable size that is neat and tidy and finite and ready to fit back into that original box.

Tyler Caldwell, Instructor in English

Instructor in English Tyler CaldwellA.B. Harvard University
Having grown up on a school campus in Middletown, Delaware, Tyler returned to boarding school life when he joined the Phillips Exeter faculty in 2011. He teaches all levels of English, but he recently has focused on 9th grade English and senior electives that include Herman Melville, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and Fictions of Finance. Outside of teaching English, Tyler has coached crew, boys’ soccer, and girls’ lacrosse.
He is currently pursuing an M.A. in English at Middlebury.

“Most of the scientific drawings have been taken from the stranded fish; and these are about as correct as a drawing of a wrecked ship…any way you look at it, you must needs conclude that the great Leviathan is that one creature in the world which must remain unpainted to the last”(Chapter 55). Throughout Moby Dick, Ishmael questions the ability of the artist to portray the whale through illustration; he refers to his own novel as a “draught of a draught” (Chapter 32). So, too, might we consider this lesson in light of a Harkness discussion. No template exists; attempts to apply a rigid formula might leave the group “wrecked.” Rather, it is more effective to approach each day, each group of students with a fresh perspective. Just as Ishmael separates the whale into smaller, digestible bits such as the head, the spout, or the tail, the teacher might frame the readings and, at times, the discussion. Ultimately, though, it is vital to allow the students time and space to be intellectually curious and experimental in order to engage in the process of learning. Melville allows Ishmael to revise his initial interpretations of Queequeg and of the world; what Ishmael originally sees as a coffin becomes the life buoy that saves him during the sinking of the Pequod. There might be times when the students flounder; those discussions might feel akin to the moment Tashtego falls into the sinking whale’s head. As helpless as those moments might feel at the time, I work to equip my students with the tools, the energy, the mindset of Queequeg, who dives into the water to rescue his comrade. Those difficult moments can be the most enlightening, rewarding. No single artist might be able to capture the leviathan in all of its glory, but perhaps a group of artists or intelligent young minds can.

Meg Foley, Instructor in History

Instructor in History Meg FoleyB.A., M.A.T., Boston University

Originally from St. Paul, Minnesota, Meg joined the Phillips Exeter Academy History faculty in 1999. She teaches History, senior Economics electives and yoga. Previously, she taught at the Colorado Springs School. She has served as chair of the History department and holds the Arthur A. Seeligson Jr. 1913 Professorship in Business, Economics and History.

Before I ever knew about a Harkness classroom, I was a sailing instructor. I spent several summers working for a program in which teenagers with no sailing experience came to the Caribbean and learned to sail and manage a fifty foot sailboat. The students rotated their positions daily, running meals, doing the navigation, trimming sailing, and of course, taking the helm. When I think back to, for example, the students docking the boat, I now make a connection to the Harkness classroom. One student at the helm, seemingly at the controls, but she needs to hear from the boy fifty feet up, on the bow, about how far she is from the pier. And if the crew’s communication is ineffective - too much talk or not enough – we have to back out, debrief, and try again. So, sailing is like Harkness, we do care about the safe docking – the end result, but that only happens when we follow the process where everyone’s capabilities and responsibilities are honored.

Bill Jordan, Chair of the Department of History

Chair of the Department of History Bill JordanB.A. University of Massachusetts - Amherst, M.A., Ph.D. University of New Hampshire

Bill joined the Phillips Exeter Academy History Department in 1997.  He teaches courses in American and ancient history, politics and the law, and coaches boys’ cross country.  He currently serves as chair of the history department. 

On July 4, 1776, Congress established a government upon the principle that “all men are created equal.” That event got some members of the Phillips family of Andover and Exeter thinking about setting up a school or two. I like to think they were not looking to educate an aristocratic elite to rule the new country, but that they agreed with the author of the Declaration of Independence, who also wrote about the importance of “educating the common people” as a bulwark against the rise of “kings, priests & nobles” in the new democracy.  I could be wrong, of course; the academies that Samuel and John Phillips established have gained a reputation for elitism.  But what could be more democratic and more egalitarian than the “Harkness method” introduced at Phillips Exeter Academy during the depths of the Great Depression?  Instead of a teacher standing in front of his students imparting wisdom, the teacher sits alongside the students on the same plane, with a goal of speaking as little as possible while the students hold forth. While I’m teaching at Exeter I can imagine I’m preparing students not to be members of the nation’s elite but to be democratic citizens who can ask their own questions, speak in a group, stand up to authority, and question their own assumptions. 

Becky Moore, Instructor in English

Instructor in English Becky Moore

A.B. Radcliffe/Harvard College, M.Ed. Harvard University

Becky joined the Phillips Exeter faculty in 1990. Prior to Exeter, she worked at Choate Rosemary Hall and Brooks School. She teaches English, coaches crew, has served as department chair and currently holds the Woodbridge Odlin Professorship of English.

In her novel Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf creates a character whose whole day leads to hosting a party. Clarissa Dalloway exclaims at one point that her true purpose in parties, and in life, is to see ‘someone from Bayswater speaking with someone from Kensington’ – to give others the opportunity to “connect” as her friend E.M. Forester would later write. I think underneath all of my work around a Harkness table, I am really trying to create the vitality and excitement of connection that Clarissa hopes for in her parties. To make community,  to bring people together and then trust that they will learn from each other, to keep the conversation going by planning a tempting menu of books, involving the wallflowers and restraining the blowhards – these are my tasks around the table. I am the hostess and I want everyone to go away confident and strengthened in their chance to engage with others in a common pursuit of discovery and articulation.

Tom Ramsey, Instructor in Religion

Instructor in Religion Tom RamseyB.A. Hamilton College , M.Div. Yale Divinity School

Tom joined the Religion department at Phillips Exeter in 1998, after teaching religion and classics and serving as Dean of Students at Trinity School in New York City.   Tom teaches courses in areas including social ethics, Hinduism and Buddhism, Bible, philosophy, and religion and popular culture; recently he completed his stint as chair of the department.

Thirteen ninth graders arrive in my classroom with the idea that they are here for a “Harkness class,” but no idea how it will happen.  That is a fairly accurate description of my own state of mind as well.  I share the students’ interest in doing something we would all see as Harkness, and I share their uncertainty about how things will transpire.  As the teacher, I also have ideas about where we might be headed, both in this particular class meeting and in the course of which it is a part.  So, how will we get there if no one knows what will happen today?  All of this expectation and uncertainty can be unsettling for people of my temperament and training, but I try to take it as a positive starting point and to see it as the necessary ground for our time together. So, then, we begin. One student makes an initial sally, but nobody seems to notice. Someone asks a question, and there is momentary interest. Finally, a student speaks, another responds to that line of thinking, and eventually everyone is moving towards and around each other’s words and gestures. Harkness is definitely a practice.  Like anything people do, student-centered discussion can become routine.

Ralph Sneeden, Instructor in English

Instructor in English Ralph SneedenB.A. University of Massachusetts - Amherst , M.A. Middlebury College, M.F.A. Warren Wilson College

Ralph joined the Phillips Exeter Academy English faculty in 1995, having previously taught at Lake Forest Academy and the Pingree School. He has been a Klingenstein Fellow at Columbia University, the Bergeron Writing Fellow at the American School in London and a fellow at the MacDowell Colony. His work has appeared in the American Poetry Review, Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, Poetry, The Prague Review, The New Republic, Slate, Zócalo, Public Square, The Common and other magazines. His book Evidence of the Journey was published in 2007.  

"The experience, like that of watching a storm reach its height and slowly subside, is one of continuous movement of subject matters.  Like the ocean in the storm, there are a series of waves; suggestions reaching out and being broken in a clash, or being carried onwards by a cooperative wave" (from Art as Experience).

The parallels between John Dewey's simile for the experience of thought and the dynamics of the Harkness table are inescapable and resonant.  No discussion is ideal, and that’s why I like aligning Dewey's image of "suggestions reaching out and being broken" with a struggling group at the table; however, it's that "cooperative wave" which intrigues me the most -- what any class should strive for, or rely on, even in the darkest moments of chaos or tension. To remind myself of my role, my usefulness, I regard each class, each discussion, as a potential "paper" that is being written, orally. So, I envision myself the editor of that discussion, an overseeing mind that has a stake in the process at hand, but which doesn't claim ownership. I'm there to help the students at the table make the most of the topic which seems to be the source of gravity around which their conversation orbits. I insert my comments as I would in the margins of an essay, not necessarily imposing my own agenda, but steering the authors in the direction that will be most fruitful, that will do justice to their impulses which started the discussion in the first place.  If the teaching of writing is helping students to become their own editors, then Harkness teaching is simply helping them to teach themselves, to become their own teachers.