Oaks and Acorns

August 1, 2018

There’s a Hole in the Bucket

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, it is a fire to be ignited.” So wrote the ancient Greek philosopher Plutarch in Moralia, and this sentiment has been repeated by educational thinkers ever since.

It makes a kind of gut-level sense to those of us who had educational experiences of the “memorize this, then take a test” variety. In test-driven schooling, usually through no fault of their own, teachers can come to feel that they have to stuff information into their students’ heads and then quickly sit ’em down for a test before anything leaks out. But, as almost anyone who’s ever memorized information knows … there’s a hole in that bucket.

At Harley, we are generally not in the business of filling vessels; we’re setting fires. As teachers, that makes us a gleeful band of educational arsonists! But those fires are the sustaining energy of real curiosity, passion, and growth, and such an approach keeps alive the joyful inquisitiveness every child brings into the world.

It’s almost too obvious to say, but here it is: that’s not what most other schools are doing. So many schools are subject to systems of vessel-filling, and test scores drive everything. Cultivating passion or sustained curiosity becomes a secondary concern or worse, and then the central engine of real learning can sputter and go cold.

“Igniting and sustaining the fires of joyful and deep learning: that’s what we at Harley are doing.”

Igniting and sustaining the fires of joyful and deep learning: that’s what we at Harley are doing. I get that people want to compare schools—how do Harley’s test scores stack up  to Sutherland’s or Fairport’s or AC’s, etc.—and we happen to do really well on such comparisons (we’re usually #1). But, truly, great test scores and college lists are a happy byproduct of our true mission, they’re not the mission itself.  

So, what to do when your neighbors sidle up and want to compare school experiences? Well, the good news is that if you want to keep it simple, you can: Harley has the best test scores, smallest classes, and the most charming cherubs in town. But the truth is, a great education isn’t actually simple, it isn’t filling a bucket; igniting and feeding the fires of real learning is complex, long-term work. It’s the work of Harley, and we’d be happy to host those same neighbors to see for themselves—better, you see, is indeed possible.

First Sledgehammers, then Hammers

Wonderful progress being made on our construction projects, and thanks to Art Rothfuss for the following video updates. First, the Moore/Brown Center for Creative Media:

Michael Frank discusses the philosophy behind our new space and the opportunities it opens up for students.

I love the point that Michael makes toward the end: it’s not about the gizmos, it’s about the program.

And next up, tons to report on the construction of the Peckham Wellness Center. Behold the dashing visage of Harley’s Athletic Director Peter Mancuso:

Athletic Director Peter Mancuso highlights some of the ways our new the Peckham Wellness Center will be used with students in each division.

Horizons at Harley

This is the 24th year of the brilliant Horizons at Harley program. During six weeks in July and August, more than 135 children from the Rochester City School District are at Harley having fun both in and out of the classroom. For those who are new to Horizons, the goal of the program is summer learning, as there are mountains of evidence that preventing summer learning loss is key to sustaining success in the traditional academic year.


Does it work? Over 95% of Horizons students go on to graduate from high school, compared with 52% overall in the RCSD in 2017, and over 75% go on to college. In fact, it works so well that, over the last five years, Horizons has incubated new programs at other institutions. Today, the Greater Rochester Summer Learning Association (with leadership from Harley folks Conger and Mary Jo Gabel) supports programs at the Warner School, MCC, Nazareth, EnCompass Resources for Learning, SUNY Geneseo and other locations, including down the creek with our friends at Allendale—a city-wide success!


Harley students, teachers, and friends have long been stalwart supporters of Horizons: all three of my children volunteered in Horizons classrooms or in the pool, and there are literally dozens of Harley students volunteering each summer.

Finally, a Word about Senior Portraits

Larry Frye explains why he finds this unique tradition exemplifies the close relationships Harley fosters.


I hope this note finds you well and enjoying your summer. Have a great August!