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2 • BFS Newsletter

MESSAGE FROM THE HEAD OF SCHOOL I n his recent book, Our Underachieving Colleges, Derek Bok not only provides a thoughtful cri- tique of current practices in American colleges, he also offers some powerful suggestions for improv- ing them. Much of what he has to say has impli- cations for education at all levels, and high schools in particular.

Having served as the president of Harvard University from 1971 to 1991, and soon to assume that position again on an interim basis fol- lowing the resignation of Lawrence Summers, the author is clearly a member of the educational establishment, but that doesn’t stop him from challenging its practices and assumptions.

To begin with, he takes on the controversial task of trying to define the purpose of a college education. In arguing that there are multiple pur- poses, he rejects the views of those who reduce col- lege education to one overarching aim – for exam- ple, “the mastery of intellectual and scholarly skills”

  • a faculty-centric view that Bok finds divorced

from the realities of what colleges can achieve and disconnected from the needs of students. Among the purposes he identifies, eight are central. He characterizes these as skills and capacities that students should develop in the course of their education:

  • the ability to communicate

  • critical/analytic thinking (including

quantitative reasoning)

  • moral reasoning

  • citizenship

  • the ability to live with diversity

  • the ability to live in a moral global society

  • a breadth of interests

  • preparation for work.

Such a list of aims requires education to be viewed broadl , and not simply as a matter of what transpires in the classroom.

Michael Nill, Head of School

Although Bok is not among those who think colleges are doing a terrible job, he finds significant gaps in securing these aims. In his analysis of the data, Bok argues that the current system of elec- tives, distribution requirements, and majors is not working to the ultimate benefit of the students. Although humanities students are getting the writ- ing skills they need, science and mathematics majors are not. By their own admission, students in the latter majors indicate their writing skills have not significantly improved over their four years in college; research shows their communication skills often decline. In turn, the quantitative reasoning skills of humanities majors remain stagnant or decline. For some majors, results are particularly bleak. Engineering majors, for example, show declines over their college years in writing abilit , cultural awareness, political participation, and a commitment to improving racial understanding.

The development of critical/analytical thinking requires students to be active learners and problem- solvers. The bulk of college exams, however, simply test comprehension of course material and are of the short answer or multiple choice variety. In one stud , only 17% of exams called for critical think-

Calendar Highlights for 2006-2007

Sept. 5 Sept. 6

New Parent Orientation

New Middle & Upper Student Orientation

Sept. 7

First day of school for Grades K – 12

Sept. 8

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Sept. 11 Sept. 12 Oct. 2 Oct. 9

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(no school)

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LS Parent Conferences after 12 noon dismissal

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June 13

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Professional Development Day (no classes)

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US Parent Conferences after 12 noon dismissal

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US Parent Conferences after 12 noon dismissal

Apr. 20

All School Parent Conferences (no classes)

Jan. 15

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Presidents’ Holiday (no school)

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Day (no classes)

ing. Astonishingl , more selective universities did not differ from less selective institutions in this regard.

Although the movement to require at least one course in moral reasoning is growing, such courses remain just one of many options for college stu- dents. Moreover, there is an even greater deficiency at colleges in finding ways to foster concern among students for the needs of others and to strengthen their commitment to do what they think is right.

In his discussion of facult , Bok finds that a large number of teachers are overly caught up in the content of their subjects and only a slight majority think the development of moral character is important or essential. In general, college teachers are not discussing pedagogical issues or taking advantage of research that demonstrates the impor- tance of techniques that actively engage students, such as collaborative learning, problem-solving approaches, or teaching through discussion.

Realisticall , colleges will not be improving sig- nificantly in these areas, at least in the short run. Unfortunatel , reform efforts in New York and else- where, which provide students with greater pro- gram choices and specializations, could well end up importing the weaknesses of colleges onto the high schools and perhaps, in time, even onto the middle schools.

As our parents will recognize, many of the core purposes of education that Bok identifies are at the heart of Brooklyn Friends. Our stress is on the lib- eral arts, and all students pursue a challenging cur- riculum in the major subject areas: mathematics, science, English, histor , foreign language, and the arts. Critical thinking, problem-solving, and active learning remain key; pedagogical trends are dis- cussed and implemented by the faculty.

Also in line with Bok’s perspective on education is BFS’s initiative to gain authorization to offer an International Baccalaureate (IB) option to our high school juniors and seniors. In addition to its stress on critical inquiry and global perspectives, IB requires academic work in all areas of study, a major extended essay, an interdisciplinary course tying together all the disciplines, and community service. The IB’s worldwide system of external exams means our students will be working to capacity and on par with high-achieving students around the world. At Brooklyn Friends, we believe that it is critically important for our students to gain the skills that will make them competitive nationally and globally and to internalize values that sustain a lifetime commitment to making their communities and the world a better place.

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