Harkness Instructional Method
Parnassus Preparatory School is the first classical charter school in Minnesota to adopt the proven Harkness table discussion method in the School of Rhetoric.
The School of Rhetoric at Parnassus has a unique approach with the Harkness Table instructional method integrated with the classical education model.
The Harkness table is a large, oval table used in a style of teaching where students gather at the table with a teacher for in-depth discussions. Teachers participate and guide students in the discussions in a seminar style, encouraging students to take ownership of their learning. Scholars must come prepared and follow the expected rules of a scholarly discussion: listen to each other, reference their annotated text or document, reference each other’s comments, ask questions, and involve everyone.
The purpose of the Harkness Table is to engage students and to foster learning. The main goal of the Harkness table style is to encourage students to come up with ideas of their own and learn good reasoning and scholarly discussion skills while also learning and benefiting from an environment of high-expectation, accountability, respect, and collaboration.
The method is in use at many American elite private and boarding schools as well as colleges and universities and it encourages classes to be held in a discursive manner. This collaborative discussion method traces back to Socrates, approximately 2,400 years ago. The Harkness teaching method is related to the classical Socratic Method — an already familiar style to Parnassus scholars entering the School of Rhetoric.
Parnassus Preparatory School’s unwavering commitment to the classical Trivium pedagogy and a philosophy that values discussion and debate in the last phase of the trivium is reflected in the configuration of some classrooms in the School of Rhetoric via the Harkness Table method. Teachers demonstrate to students how to learn rather than just what to learn. Students learn to think by themselves and express their opinions eloquently, persuasively, and intelligently. This is the apex of a classical education at Parnassus.