The Academy at Charlemont
“Creating Rather than Consuming”
Not many adults would associate Hollywood’s “The Matrix” with the philosophy of Plato and the Neoplatonists. But the film parallels Plato’s allegory of the cave in a number of ways – you can look it up – and therein lies a clue for how to make Greek philosophy come alive in the minds of today’s teenagers.
The Academy at Charlemont is dedicated to making the classics relevant to a new generation of students. “The kind of education that lasts is the kind that is grounded in student experience – start with what they know and build from there,” said David Perry, Charlemont’s Interim Head of School. The cornerstone of Charlemont’s curriculum is Humanities, a four-year interdisciplinary sequence that combines literature, history, science and philosophy. It is here that students encounter Plato and The Matrix, the Iliad, The Stranger and Waiting for Godot. “It’s an education about meaning and purpose,” said Perry.
“I’ve constantly got all the things I’ve learned on projects in the back of my head. If I’m memorizing for a test, I forget it a week later.”
The Humanities sequence includes some heavy stuff, and teachers use more than mere analogies to make it come alive. “Teachers give us the topic, but we take it wherever we think it should go. We’re in control of the class and they tell us anything we’ve left out,” said a 12th grade student.
Class assignments in Senior Humanities are similarly free-wheeling. One example: Find a simile in the Iliad and write about it in a deep way. Or, take an aspect of environmental sustainability and do a project about it. One student found a way to combine his passion for architecture with the existential perspectives of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. The result was “A House for the Existentialist,” a blueprint and scale model that included architectural metaphors to represent the philosophical views of Sartre and Camus. The student later received recognition from the American Institute of Architects for the project.
Senior Humanities is typical of Charlemont’s interdisciplinary, project-based approach to learning. “Kids here are responsible for creating instead of consuming,” said Perry, “We strike a balance between a body of basic knowledge and learning by doing. It is the faculty’s job to hold those two in tension.” In Statistics, students don’t merely learn about random surveys in the abstract. They create their own random surveys to explore a topic of their choice. “Teachers here present you with options, and you can pursue what interests you,” said one student.
“Kids here are responsible for creating instead of consuming,” said Perry.
The other defining element of Charlemont is its size – about 25 students in each grade. Students don’t merely know all the students in their own grade; they know all the students in every grade. That makes for a family-like atmosphere where big kids and smaller ones rub shoulders with easy familiarity. But Charlemont’s size also accentuates the school’s emphasis on activity and entrepreneurship. “In a small school, it is necessary to create your own experience. Many things that happen here do so because students make them happen,” said Perry.
That principle applies to all facets of life at Charlemont. “The more we can connect students with their passions, the better off we are,” said Perry.
Learn more about The Academy at Charlemont.