“Ingenuity & Courage”

Founders of the Mod System gambled on a radical plan that worked.
By Margaret Combs

The Gryphon – Fall 2003

In the fall of 1973, the classroom doors at The Cambridge School of Weston swung open to a radical new idea. The classroom clock and calendar were dismantled. Class times doubled in length and the number of subjects per day dropped in half. Semesters disappeared. In their place were seven, four-and-a-half week “modules.” Students were pulled out of the classroom and transported to Boston, Waltham, Cape Cod, out of state, and overseas. Teachers moved away from the blackboard, broke classes into discussion groups, took students off campus into courtrooms, art museums, and unversity laboratories. Students were encouraged to seek information from all corners of the campus and community, and teachers were given free rein to assist them in doing so.

The Module System was like nothing attempted before. Although block scheduling had begun to appear in progressive institutions such as Colorado College, and in some independent schools like Gil St. Bernards in New Jersey and Patnall in Delaware, no system was as bold or sweeping as the Mod System at The Cambridge School. It gave teachers and students two coveted gifts – time and freedom – and its impact on cognition was immediate and stunning.

Bob Sandoe, former head of school from 1972-77, who conceived and launched the system thirty years ago, remembers it was only a few short weeks into the school year before teachers witnessed dramatic results.

“I recall a startling moment about a month into the program when the French teacher, Chris Wearing, came to me and said: ‘My God, I learned today that the kids are actually dreaming in French!’,” said Sandoe, speaking on the phone from his summer residence in the Adirondacks. “The Mod System is so involving – you are so deep into what you are studying, and absorbing it so completely, that you are dreaming in it. That’s what we call an intensive education.”

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