Different methods of learning provide alternatives to traditional education

by Varsha Rammohan, Copy Editor

Sounds of jazz music filled the athletic center on March 18, as students walking in for a school meeting found an immense photo of a smiling Langston Hughes displayed on the white screen. USC Thornton School of Music professor Dr. Ron McCurdy, along with four other musicians, visited the upper school as a part of the Langston Hughes Project, which is a performance of Hughes’s jazz poem compilation “Ask Your Mama.”

Upper school orchestra teacher Dr. Dave Hart first heard about Dr. McCurdy through Yuma Sung, who graduated from Harker’s middle school and is now a pianist for the Langston Hughes project. Dr. Hart worked with English teacher Charles Shuttleworth and administration to make Dr. McCurdy’s visit an interdisciplinary experience.

“Our goal was to incorporate as many different departments as possible, not just performing arts. [Dr. McCurdy] ended up meeting with English students, and we made a master plan for classes he could do around the Harlem Renaissance and just creative writing in general,” Dr. Hart said. “He also does a lot of work with jazz, so I wanted the entire school community to hear him. Not everyone’s going to love it, but I thought his message was important.”

The Langston Hughes project is just one of many types of alternative methods of learning: education that takes place outside of the standard lecture and note-taking process that is extremely common across secondary and even developmental schooling.

The Montessori Method of Education is an approach targeted towards younger children, where students have freedom in their activities and work with natural materials rather than instruction, according to the Montessori-Northwest organization. Nearby Montessori schools include AppleSeed School in Sunnyvale and Canyon Heights Academy in Campbell.

“[Dr. McCurdy] played alongside us while also directing us, which is kind of what Dr. Hart employs in his normal classes,” said junior Joshua Valluru, who worked with Dr. McCurdy through a jazz band workshop. “I really liked it because he’s so talented and knowledgeable, and he made the whole lesson very interactive.”

Another popular form of alternative learning is the Harkness method. Originally developed at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, it has spread across the nation, even Harker. Harkness learning consists of students sitting in an oval-shaped desk configuration, discussing ideas with one another. A teacher usually starts off the discussion with a prompt but stays out of the dialogue with minimal intervention. Harkness encourages students to come up with ideas on their own but also listen to and learn from others, according to the Exeter website.

“I think when you think of a learning-rich environment, it takes shape in a lot of different ways. It can take place in what we’re used to, in a classroom with a single instructor,” Dr. Hart said. “But I think it can also take shape in being around an expert in that field you know and checking out what they’re passionate about. The definition of education is to grow and develop, so if alternative learning does that, then that’s perfect.”

The performing arts department plans to host more performances similar to Dr. McCurdy’s in the future to further foster interdisciplinary learning and other forms of alternative education outside of a standard classroom.