According to Benjamin Franklin, “The best school of philosophy, morality, and politics” in his long life experience was not a prestigious university, but was a discussion group he founded with twelve ordinary Philadelphia craftsmen who met weekly in the back room of a tavern. Their goal was to engage in discourse in order to become better individuals who could more effectively improve their local community. This group was named “the Junto,” based on some mangling of Spanish, “to join.” As I read Franklin’s description of the Junto in his autobiography, a few things occurred to me: 1) This is a great model for classroom discussions; 2) Did Ben Franklin invent the flipped classroom?; 3) Did Ben Franklin invent an Intellectual Fight Club?
Ok, I admit that the Fight Club similarities might be a stretch, but here is some food for thought:
(click it for full size, or here for pdf)
But regarding flipped classrooms… The group did not just get together for typical tavern conversations. To make the most of their time together, they were given 24 questions to consider throughout the week so that they would be able to bring more to the table for the benefit of the group. For example:
- Have you met with any thing in the author you last read, remarkable, or suitable to be communicated to the Junto?
- Have you lately heard of any citizen’s thriving well, and by what means?
- Do you think of any thing at present, in which the Junto may be serviceable to mankind? To their country, to their friends, or to themselves?
While going about their daily lives, the Junto members were purposefully making deeper observations of themselves and their communities. They were processing their opinions about each matter in order to provide a more impactful debate, which the group considered to be the most effective way of arriving at the truth of any issue. They also made efforts to find literature to help inform and support their opinions, and this research would also be shared with the group. Like the modern flipped classroom, information-acquisition was done outside of class time, and deeper analysis, creating a group solution, and the first steps of implementing a civic movement were done during the meetings.
Replicating the Junto in your classroom:
- Identify a few (not 24) over-arching questions that reflect your course’s or department’s learning goals and that your students could continually consider throughout the semester, making your course more personally relevant to them.
- Set aside a routine time in your course where these ideas will be discussed, allowing students to investigate their personal thoughts and find the connections with your content.
- Set up rules that encourage constructive (Socrative) dialogue:
- No statements of disagreement: “No, I think you are wrong, and the answer is…”
- Instead, disagreements are examined through the role of “a humble inquirer and doubter,” with penetrating questions that make the group reconsider specific aspects of any postulation: “But wouldn’t your statement also mean that…”
- Do something with the results of these discussions. Whether a small change in an individual or a large social movement, what can be done with the conclusions that your class makes? This potential impact is what will make your course and your learning goals meaningful to your students and what motivates them to give more to your course.
The Bottom Line:
The Junto allowed ordinary men to shape ideas that helped them innovate a young city and colony, and eventually a nation. Help students experience your coarse as a tangible way to improve themselves and their shared community, and see what they can make of it.