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Possible Discussion Topics

The Hawthorne School Reunion

Mystic, CT August 23-24, 2003

Dear Fellow Alums,

What follows are some questions and issues that came to mind for me about the Hawthorne School. I offer them as a resource for possible discussion at the upcoming reunion or in future reunions or programs.

Ciao, Giorgio Cave (class of '66)

1. Hawthorne's "Values"

What were the fundamental educational, social, or other values which guided the Hawthorne School? Did Hawthorne have an "educational philosophy? Do you still agree with those values? How have you tried to continue to implement them in your own life?

2. Alternative Vision?

Were (are) those values and/or educational philosophy at odds with mainstream education or society at large? To what extent did Hawthorne School represent an alternative, iconoclastic vision of how education or life should be? Was it viable then? Is it viable now? If so, how?

3. Public vs. Private Schools

It seems that for many Hawthorne students who came from public schools, Hawthorne felt like a radical alternative to, or even a haven from, the public schools. How did Hawthorne differ from public schools? Is there need for such an alternative to public schools today?

4. Hawthorne & Progressive Education

To what extent was Hawthorne School representative of the progressive or "free" school movement? To what extent was it similar to, or different from, an archetypal progressive, "free" school like Summerhill in England?

5. Progressive Education Today

What is the current state of the progressive or "free" school movement? Does it exist at all? Are there any Hawthorne alums actively involved in it? Is there a place for a school like Hawthorne today in the American educational scene? A need for it?

6. Decline of Education & Literacy

Many of us who remain connected in some way to education see a tremendous decline, over the last 30 years, in the quality of education and the level of literacy. We look back on the rigor and academic demands placed on us as Hawthorne School students with something approaching awe and disbelief. The level of discourse, the books read, the difficulty and challenge of exams, the expectations in terms of written assignments and oral expression in class, seem almost mind-boggling in terms of current academic "standards." Many of us went to college and wondered why so little was expected of us.

What was there about the historical times, the Hawthorne School, or its teachers which made this level of academic excellence possible? What is the connection, if any, between the decline of literacy and educational standards and Hawthorne's demise? What does this suggest about the relevance of a school like Hawthorne to the crisis of education today?

7. Hawthorne's Historical Context

Hawthorne School existed from 1956 to 1982. To what extent was Hawthorne the product of its times, fulfilling needs of, and relevant to, that period, but perhaps no longer relevant and/or able to thrive in the current situation? Or, alternatively, what was there about this historical period that made a school like Hawthorne possible and viable?

8. Hawthorne's Buildings

Some students at the time of Hawthorne's transition from 1221 Massachusetts Ave. to its southwest Washington location felt that this was a turning point in Hawthorne's development, for better or for worse. Did the spirit and ambiance of Hawthorne School change when it moved into its new "permanent" quarters? Did the building itself somehow make a difference? Was this in any way related to Hawthorne not surviving?

9. Hawthorne's Teachers

What was special about Hawthorne's teachers? Did they have any characteristics or values in common as a group? Are there any historical or cultural reasons why teachers of this type existed then and seem all-too-rare today? What has become of Hawthorne's teachers? What did they do with their lives after leaving Hawthorne? Was Hawthorne as special to them, as teachers, as it was to us, as students? What is their perspective, as teachers, as opposed to ours, as former students, about all of the other issues raised here?

10. "Specialness" of Hawthorne

For many Hawthorne alums, Hawthorne School seems to have had a very significant, key place in their lives and hearts, that goes beyond the usual high school nostalgia. For many, it seems to have remained firmly rooted in the forefront of their consciousness throughout the next 20-30 years of their lives. Why was Hawthorne so special?

11. Impact of Hawthorne

What was the concrete impact of Hawthorne School on students' and teachers' later lives? How did it affect their choices, their values, their ways of living in the world?

12. "Success" of Hawthorne Alums

How "successful" were Hawthorne graduates in their lives and careers? By what criteria of "success"? How did the experience of Hawthorne School contribute to or impair students' ability to "succeed" later on in their lives?

13. Purpose of Hawthorne Reunion, "Alumni Association", Website

What is the objective of Hawthorne Alumni reunions, the fledgling "alumni association," and the Hawthorne School website? What might we hope to achieve beyond the satisfaction of a nostalgic urge?

14. Hawthorne Alums as a Group

Is there anything meaningful that Hawthorne alums as a whole, both students and teachers, could contribute to the world at large? Any joint projects that would inspire us and extend the legacy of the Hawthorne School?

15. Preserving the Legacy of the Hawthorne School

Since the Hawthorne School no longer exists as a functioning school, is the newly formed "alumni association" and website doomed to disappear when all its former teachers and students have also disappeared? Is there a way to preserve the Hawthorne legacy for future generations? How do we "keep the memory alive" when there are no longer any surviving Hawthornites with memories? Do we face the inverse problem of those socially-conscious historians working feverishly to document the holocaust - that if historical records are not preserved to replace the last human being with actual memory of the Hawthorne School, then we are doomed to NEVER repeat it, i.e., all that was special and unique in the Hawthorne School educational experiment will be forever extinguished and never take shape in the future as an educational sequel - Hawthorne II?

16. Historical documents

What kind of "historical documents" about Hawthorne School survive? What photos, films, newspaper clippings and other articles, yearbooks, etc. still exist. How can we track down more materials? Should we create a Hawthorne School Archives? If so, of what kind, and where would it be located?

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Last updated August 17, 2003