It all started with a Big Bang: the universe, and all we are, and know, and do. “Goldilocks conditions” that led to an ideal mix of elements, coming together to create the fundamentals necessary to result in life as we know it. At least that is the accepted scientific theory . . . And that is where “Big History” begins . . .
“We discovered that our courses often accidentally dovetailed,” says Mr. Heise. “In history, for example, conversations about the frontier conditions that prevailed in the 19th century connected beautifully with students’ informed observations about Henry David Thoreau, Francis Parkman, and Jack London—all writers they encountered in their English III class."
The mechanical work of collaboration—the bringing together of different ideas—is only a part of meaningful, collaborative work, and success depends on something else: the subjective, interpersonal element of the work. Part of collaboration is algorithmic; the other part is personal. Whatever expertise we may have on a matter, we may not have expertise in the interpersonal sensibilities necessary for successful collaboration. And so, effective collaboration requires not only comfort with criticism and change, but also, and more importantly, an environment that recognizes and explores the merits of a half-formed idea before it recognizes the idea’s shortcomings.
John Taylor, Dean of the Faculty, says, “It’s a question of degrees. We try to complement specialization with other things. If we have a student who only wants to do one sport or who loves being in a science lab, we say to them, okay, but don’t do it for three terms in a row. Try other things. It’s not an either-or matter. It’s more a matter of finding the and.”
For thousands of years, libraries have served as curators of knowledge—collecting, preserving, and organizing resources, traditionally books. And in the digital age, says Charlotte Patriquin, director of the Boyden Library, “I could argue that the role of libraries has only expanded and the strategies we use to connect users to the information they need have multiplied.”
“We have certain routines and values that we’ve held on to: family-style meals, the way we conduct school meeting, class dress.” These habits, and the values that underlie them, are not going away, Taylor explains. “But we’re also increasingly embracing innovation. It’s not just technology—we’ve developed a culture in the school where people are more willing to embrace change.” One might even say that Deerfield is renewing its tradition of change by integrating technology into daily life.
Built on a tradition of community service established by longtime Headmaster Frank Boyden, Deerfield's service program upholds the idea that a strong, well-rounded education includes an awareness of others and a willingness to help.
Deerfield's residential life program Connect4 and the parent-run Deerfield Parents Network offer students and parents an opportunity to learn from each other and take an active role in shaping the culture of the school. The ultimate goal: To ensure that the Academy’s core values are directly woven into the Deerfield experience, thus shaping students who are ready and willing to do good in the world—not just to do well.
Simon is one of 13 students in a class called Physics Projects that is taught by the chair of the Science Department, Ben Bakker, a modest man with a white goatee. This was the second robot they'd built in the class. Photovoltaic cells at the front sense light and dark, and send information to a programmable, open-source microprocessor called an Arduino Board. Simon and his classmates had to pass AP Physics to get into this class, but the majority of them aren't science or computer experts. Most of them had never programmed a computer before or written a line of code.
Deerfield is beautiful, comfortable, and safe. And sometimes, for those very reasons, faculty need to leave. Not forever, of course, but long enough to have the opportunity to see outside “the bubble,” experientially expand their knowledge of global issues and culture, and sample the academic climate on continents other than North America. Then, bursting with new knowledge, they return to campus—ready to share their experiences in the classroom.
Last year, for the first time, Hills set out to coordinate the fledgling summer science research program with the intent to help science-minded students land the kind of internships and research positions that can, in the long run, launch a career. Rather than depending on their own (or their family’s) resources, students can now turn to Deerfield—and specifically to Hills—to navigate summer research opportunities around the country, and even overseas.
John Maeda, president of the Rhode Island School of Design, admires Harris’ work because Harris, he says, “understands art as a kind of science, and science as a kind of art. Jonathan lives fluidly between and across the two worlds, and by doing so he is able to embody a different kind of skill and talent.” You’ve heard of STEM, the idea of increasing innovation through science, technology, engineering, and math? According to Maeda, “Jonathan embodies an education that is less STEM, more STEAM—adding Art at the core.”
Scheduling and money aside, the job opened my eyes to an entirely different lifestyle—an all-encompassing universe of high creativity and art, fondly known as “Bazworld.” The challenge on the production end was constructing that universe and assembling an atmosphere that would facilitate both the creation and rejuvenation of Gatsby’s story.
The strong student interest at Deerfield speaks volumes. “I think the big picture is we realized students were doing this on their own, and we could help them do it better,” points out Bakker. “We’re in the business of getting these kids where they want to go, whether in science, in music, whatever their passions happen to be.” Taylor echoes that sentiment. “Really devoted students have long pursued their specialized interests over the summer."
Two skeletons on a white sheet—a cat and a turkey—are highlighted by clip lamps in the middle of David Dickinson’s classroom. Eight students surround the faintly macabre centerpiece with pastels, charcoal, and erasers spread out around their workstations. A bank of windows allows some natural light into the basement room, and a CD plays softly in the background. Every available wall surface is covered with sketches and watercolors.
In years past, to be a faculty member at an independent school quite often literally meant working independently in one’s own classroom, and as for “chair,” that title was sometimes more honorific than substantial. These days, however, isolationism has become defunct on a global level; it is the same at Deerfield, and Taylor and the chairs agree, that’s a good thing. Today, an interdepartmental sharing of ideas, methodology, and pedagogy is taking shape.
Global H2O is a new kind of course--a two-year Advanced Placement capstone course that depends less on a body of knowledge than it does a cadre of skills in research, rhetoric, and presentation.
Nearly everyone in Jewett’s class sorted trash. They put moldy apple bits into the compost pile, soda cans into recycling, used tissues into “bio hazard,” and slimy, stinking, week-old take-out containers into the trash. As they worked, Jewett says, his students became horrified—not because of the smell, but because “half the things shouldn’t have been there.”
Mia Hecht ’09 was dissecting a crab. She was hoping to find a clue to how nonvertebrates, such as arthropods, manage to lubricate their joints—a question that had always intrigued their instructor, Dennis Cullinane. Mia carefully popped open the exoskeleton of her crab and saw something she hadn’t seen before. And she couldn’t find it in her research materials, either.
An empty gymnasium with five teenagers. The space seemed cavernously large, and the group of students laughably small. But the woman kept her head up and her eyes focused. She had been charged with creating Deerfield Academy’s dance program, and if this was what she was given, she was determined to make it work.
Omnia vincit amor. Love conquers all. Labor omnia vincit. This second quote is also Virgil, revising his original romantic statement into something decidedly more practical: Work conquers all. And actually, the whole quote is labor omnia vincit improbus—ruinous work overcomes all. It’s from the Georgics.
Art is everywhere. Look around. The space you’re in was likely designed with a purpose in mind. There’s little debate that environments have a significant influence on the work done within. Spaces have the ability to transport us into a mode of work, a moment in memory—or even a state of mind. The art of space is in what it creates within us.
Students come in all colors, shapes, and sizes. And while the subject matter may seem too gauche to bring up, you may find yourself wondering: What’s the breakdown here? Who is paying for this experience, and who is getting aid? Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Patricia Gimbel has a simple reply: “Every single one of these students is on financial aid,” she says firmly. “Every one of them.”
"I made my segue into technology and large datasets,” Janie says, “which prepared me to come back to New Haven for a Yale ‘spinoff’ that had developed a technology to figure out which genes were being expressed in organisms whose genomes were being sequenced, kind of before the fact. Then I moved to another Yale spinoff that had been acquired by a large biotech, founded on a technology that looked at interactions between proteins en masse.”
When first noticed by Mr. Boyden, Tom Ashley was having too much fun to go to school. Swimming as early and often in the season as possible, fishing, hunting, and tending to chores, he was an awkward, reticent Old Deerfield farmboy who had an indifferent attitude toward education. Mr. Boyden detected something more in Tom’s character: honesty, loyalty, enthusiasm, resilience, and reliability.