At Brown, grades are optional because they want students to learn for the sake of learning without fear that they must be excellent. Faith in students means not just trusting that they want to learn (which all humans have a natural drive to do, which seems to be news to some teachers) but also trusting students to explore, to be as narrow or broadly interdisciplinary as they wish in their studies. They trust the students to chart their own course and at the same time advise them and mentor them, but the final decision is theirs not the college's.
Also admitted pre- med students are automatically accepted into med school without taking the MCAT and no matter what their concentration.
Surroundings are really important: A sense of belonging to something special and larger than yourself, a readily available spot for comfort and rejuvenation, a place of showcased beauty, a place for sereditipous inspiration and for relaxed humorous collaboration are not extraneous but ESSENTIAL for a complete education. Amherst seems to do all of this best, but no one can top Yale for making a student feel like something special via grandeur. (Freshmen can live in a castle turret)
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Lisa Gurthie is the PD facilitator at Piedmont IB Middle School. She specializes in tech and arts integration, interdisciplinary holistic education, and unschooling school to reconnect academia to real life. One day she will modernize her "about" page. She curates this blog for the professional development convenience of the teachers at Piedmont, but the editorial comments are her own.