School of the Future: Double Helix > Twin Pillars

Hampshire College almost closed last year. Families could get a similar enough education for less money elsewhere.

Because of their dire situation Hampshire did not enroll a full freshman class, holding spots only for early admits and gap year admits.

Many schools across the K12 and higher ed spectrum are—or will soon be—facing the same existential crisis. Often their first questions are:

  • What are our competitors doing?

  • What signature program / facility / amenity could we offer that would attract more families?

  • What do families want, and how can we provide it?

Notice the pattern: What…? What…? What…?

Which makes Hampshire College’s strategy noteworthy:

“Hampshire's new curriculum will center on addressing the ‘pressing issues of our time,’ such as climate change, artificial intelligence (AI) and social inequity, the college announced last week. […] Hampshire is eliminating majors and departments. The college is exploring having year-long seminars held by faculty teams that focus on answering questions and working on projects.”

Rather than starting with WHAT, they are starting with WHY: to address “the pressing issues of our time.” Then they intertwine that WHY with a coherent WHAT: answering big questions through project-based learning. In this new paradigm, they don’t need free standing departments or majors because everything is connected.

For decades—in some cases centuries—schools have organized themselves around twin pillars: academics and character development. And like pillars, the WHAT and WHY were separated. The promise to students sounded something like this: “You will be critical thinkers and you will be ethical leaders.”

To survive and thrive, the school of the future will need to evolve from twin pillars to a double helix, where the WHAT and the WHY are inextricable. That promise sounds a little different: “You will be creatively critical thinkers because you are ethical leaders; and you will be ethical leaders because you are creatively critical thinkers.”

How might you weave your WHY and WHAT together so that they can act as DNA?



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Christian Talbot