“Beyond the Blackboard”: Kurt Hahn and Expeditionary Learning

by Eric Niles, Head of School

I write this blog post from Shanghai at the beginning of a six-country tour to celebrate Athenian’s 50th Anniversary and our identity as a global boarding school.  Shanghai is an amazing city and I have been warmly welcomed by our parents here.

As I landed, my email and texts were lighting up with notes about a radio documentary on KQED.  The piece isn’t literally about Athenian, but really, it is.  It is about Kurt Hahn, educator and founder of Outward Bound and the inspiration of our founder, Dyke Brown. It is about Hahn’s passion for character education and an emphasis on non-cognitive skills like persistence, leadership, and getting along with others as the means to prepare students to be compassionate citizens.  It is about education as it should be.  It is about Athenian.

The story is long, but I urge you to listen if you can find the time.  If you want to understand why we do Focus Friday’s, and AWE, and Round Square exchanges, and emphasize the Arts, and push so hard on core academic skills–this story is a great window into our mission and our thinking.  And if you want your child to visit the schools in Germany and Scotland started by Kurt Hahn, then just have them sign up for a Round Square exchange, for those two schools, like Athenian, were founders of that organization.

Part 2 of the story helps you understand why we are thinking so deeply about Athenian’s public purpose, the service we are supposed to do as an institution beyond the great education we provide every day to our students.

I know I often say “the world has come to Athenian.”  This story another indication of that.

Enjoy as I take Athenian to the world for the next few weeks.  See you soon.


Photo of students sitting for individual reflection during 9th-grade orientation at Pt. Reyes.  Photo by Mark Lukach.

2 thoughts on ““Beyond the Blackboard”: Kurt Hahn and Expeditionary Learning

  1. Wow! Much celebration and excitement here for the aliveness of Athenian and the global scope you are exploring! Carry on please!!
    – sura hart, meeting school communities with a global nvc perspective


  2. Hi Eric,
    Thank you so much for this sharing.. can’t wait to hear more about your unfolding and the Athenian’s foundational stories being shared with us in America and abroad to make our world a better place for the next seven generations!
    Parent of two Athenian students


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