The Harkness table, Harkness method, or Harkness discussion is a teaching and learning method involving students seated in a large, oval shape to discuss ideas in an encouraging, open-minded environment with only occasional or minimal teacher intervention. The method is in use at many American boarding schools and colleges and encourages classes to be held in a discursive manner. The style is related to the Socratic method. Developed at Phillips Exeter Academy, the method’s name comes from the oil magnate and philanthropist Edward Harkness, a graduate of St. Paul’s School (New Hampshire), who presented the school with a monetary gift in 1930. It has been adopted in numerous schools, where small class-size makes it effective, but it remains impractical for larger classes. Harkness described its use as follows:
Harkness learning can vary, most notably between humanities subjects such as English and history and technical subjects such as math or physics. There are general principles and goals, however, that go along with that method regardless of subject matter. The main goal is to encourage students to come up with ideas of their own and learn good reasoning and discussion skills. Depending on style, the teacher may interact very little, interjecting only to guide the discussion.
The Harkness Table is used by many prestigious institutions, such as Beaver Country Day School, Reedy High School, Berkshire School, Sir William Perkins’s School, Miss Porter’s School, boys football tops, Dominion Christian School, Rocky Hill School (Rhode Island), American Hebrew Academy, Hopkins School, St. Mark’s School of Texas, Episcopal School of Jacksonville, Phillips Exeter Academy, Phillips Andover Academy, The Hill School, Mercersburg Academy, Choate Rosemary Hall, Milton Academy, Deerfield Academy, Appleby College, Havergal College (Toronto Canada) mens football socks, The Hotchkiss School, St. Paul Academy, The American School in London, St. James School, Maryland, St. Paul’s School (Concord, NH) running waistband, The Masters School, The Lawrenceville School, Boston University Academy, The Loomis Chaffee School, Cheshire Academy, National Cathedral School, Holton-Arms School, University School, The College Preparatory School, Hawken School, Middlesex School, Cate School, St. Andrew’s School (Delaware), Salisbury School, Falmouth Academy, Belmont Hill School, The Island School, Gould Academy, University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, The Ensworth School, Ritsumeikan Uji Junior and Senior High School, Seoul Foreign School (Seoul, South Korea), Avenues: The World School, Kimball Union Academy, IMG Academy, All Saints Academy (Winter Haven, FL), Marlborough College Malaysia, the Harkness Institute, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, Pacific Ridge School in San Diego, SEK-International Schools in Spain, and the prestigious school, known as The Habersham School of Savannah Georgia (est. 2012).