Newly-Introduced Harvard Business School Curriculum Adds Spark to Episcopal History and Government Classes
If you could to take one of Harvard’s most popular Freshman-level courses at the high school level in the teaching style used at their world-renowned business school, would you? Would you be intimidated? Would you worry whether or not you’re smart enough to keep up with the pace of such a course? Or, would you dive right in? That’s precisely what many 10th and 11th grade U.S. History and U.S. Government students at Episcopal are doing this year. Mr. Vincent Hoang and I had the pleasure of attending a Harvard Business School (HBS) professional development workshop earlier this semester to learn about the materials for the course, titled “History of American Democracy.” We have been impressed with our students’ response to the course so far.
What makes the course unique, in addition to its affiliation with one of the most famous universities in the world, is the method it deploys to engage students. For over 100 years the Harvard Business School has employed the “case method” to teach its MBA students how to think through complex issues and problems. There are no textbooks. There are no lectures. Students learn by reading, thinking, and doing instead.
Before each class meeting, Harvard Business School students read through a complex 20-30 page case study on a topic like “Baria Planning Solutions, Inc.: Fixing the Sales Process” or “Bain Capital and Dollarama” before arriving in class. At the end of the case study, students are left with a cliffhanger. They know the information that confronted a corporate board or CEO in the past, but they do not know what decision(s) they made. The hook is for students to hash out what they would have done in the situation. In class, there is no lecture. There are no powerpoints or presentations. Instead, students are met by a professor and a series of blank chalkboards. The information comes from them. The teacher initially asks broad questions in a Socratic style and begins to jot down pertinent information from student responses on each board. The class meeting operates as a place to hash out the main ideas and specific details of the case study everyone read. As the discussion goes along, the questions get more specific. A large percentage of the grade each semester is based not on tests, but on meaningful class participation. While someone could sit, say nothing, and gain knowledge in these case study seminars, they would not be allowed to pass the course.
In 2013, Professor David Moss decided to try this method as an introductory-level U.S. History/Government course with Harvard undergrads. Students found the course readings and the high-level intellectual discussions they spurred quite engaging. Before long, high school teachers asked for permission to use the cases in their schools in 2014-15. Moss and the Harvard Business school began a pilot program that year with a handful of teachers. Since that time, the program has spread across the country. At the moment, 240 high school social studies teachers in 25 states and the District of Columbia are offering the course. Because of that three-day seminar experience, Mr. Hoang and I are the first two social studies teachers in the state of Louisiana to establish a partnership with the Harvard Business School that grants us full permission to use and teach the same materials used in the school’s “History of American Democracy” course. After only one semester, Episcopal’s students have shown that they are up to the task.
In my AP U.S. History course, students read and annotated “James Madison, the “Federal Negative,” and the Making of the U.S. Constitution (1787)” last semester. After spending two days discussing the Constitution and the ideas of the Founding Fathers such as the desirable size and scope of the federal government and the crises that necessitated a new Constitution after the American Revolution, students showed a meaningful, lasting grasp of the era’s issues. While many 10th and 11th grade students might be anxious about reading a complex document written at a level for a Harvard freshman, Episcopal AP students performed well. Not only did they hit the same points that Harvard students in Moss’s course typically hit, the connections from the class discussions carried over to their performance on tests and quizzes.
Because of this early success, we assigned case studies to students to discuss as soon as the second semester got underway. Rather than the typical Christmas break work I would normally assign to AP students, students were asked to read and annotate a case study on Reconstruction and the Compromise of 1877 which they discussed this week. Honors students began the second semester by reading about Lincoln’s difficult decision of whether or not to resupply Fort Sumter, which ultimately led to the Civil War. Finally, our U.S. government students will discuss the role of political parties to begin the semester by reading and debating about the strengths and weaknesses of California’s decision to move toward a secret ballot as opposed to public voting in the 1890s.
Dr. Billy Pritchard
Dr. Billy Pritchard is a native of Winn Parish, Louisiana. He and his wife, Lisa, came to Episcopal in 2015 after spending the previous decade in Buffalo, New York. Dr. Pritchard is a 1999 graduate of the Louisiana School of Math, Science, and the Arts. In addition, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Centenary College of Louisiana, a master’s degree from Ole Miss and doctorate from SUNY-Buffalo. Dr. Pritchard teaches U.S. History, Honors AP U.S. History, American Presidency and the Civil Rights Movement.