Creating a Culture of Inquiry at New Trier
By Tim Dohrer and Jan Borja
For 110 years, New Trier High School has tried to create an environment where students can explore our motto: “to commit minds to inquiry, hearts to compassion, and lives to the service of humanity.” We take this mission very seriously and it is at the core of every classroom and program. In our columns this year, we would like to spend some time on each part of that motto and also introduce a fourth theme that is intertwined throughout.
The first part of our motto suggests that our students must commit minds to inquiry. This is the more traditional purpose of schools, to provide a comprehensive education to young people and prepare them for citizenship and life after high school. It includes classroom activities, study time, homework, tests, quizzes, papers, and final exams. We situate this work in the mind and suggest through the word “commit” that success in this area requires dedication, perseverance, and hard work.
The word “inquiry” is perhaps the most difficult part of the motto to understand but also the most important. Traditionally, inquiry refers to an examination of facts. At New Trier, inquiry is a process used to deeply understand an idea, concept, or problem. It suggests that a student will take a critical stance when reading a text or listening to an opinion or observing a piece of art. We expect students to ask good questions of themselves, others, and of the world. They should apply lessons from the past, the context of the present, and the possibilities of tomorrow in fashioning answers or solutions or responses. It is about learning from your own or others failures as much as the successes.
New Trier High School is committed to inquiry. It is one of the cornerstones of our long-standing success in preparing young people for the future. We are lucky that this passion for true inquiry emanates from our students, staff, parents, and community. We invite you to explore this part of the motto as your child begins another school year. Find ways to learn along with them and engage in some of our wonderful parent programs, guest speakers, or committees. Join this incredible “community of learners” and help us support our students as they ask the big questions about the world!