Learning through Conversation: Harrison Atlas on Intellectualism in Quad, Classroom, and Cross Country Trail Conversations

Harrison Atlas, ’18, a self-described “curious, dedicated learner,” when asked what his greatest passion is, can answer honestly: “talking. I love to talk.”

“I would honestly say that I love intellectual conversations, academic discussions—the classroom setting is so discussion-based in my classes—and I really just enjoy talking about the material and getting other people’s perspectives,” he elaborates.

Harrison Atlas

For instance, in Atlas’ Advanced Topics math course, he enjoys hearing about everyone else’s approach to a problem; in the curiosity-fueled, collaborative work, he thrives.

“We have a small group [in Advanced Topics], and all the work we do is collaborative,” he says. “We always have different approaches, and we sort of just feed off each other’s math energy and just think really hard together,” he laughs. “I think math is best when it’s super collaborative because there are so many ways to think about a problem. Nothing is simple. Everything is multifaceted, and you can approach the same problem with so many different techniques.”

In his English class, AP English Literature and Composition, the same is true.

“I wasn’t a particularly interested English student before I came to Dublin,” he admits, “and, here, I would say that all of our discussions are beneficial. There’s this balance of structure and freedom that allows us to go into meaningful tangents.”He adds that his favorite part of English class is “the really ‘fire’ literature.” (“Fire” means really good.)

In particular, Atlas has particularly enjoyed reading The Old Man and the Sea, Love in the Time of Cholera, Brave New World, and Hamlet (“Hamlet is SO funny sometimes. Polonius!” he adds) at Dublin. Outside of English class, he found The Worldly Philosophers from Advanced Economic Theory riveting.

In and outside of the classroom, Atlas feels that he has learned a great deal about social justice and equity. The conversations organically turn toward issues of injustice and inequity.

“The topic of social justice is very prevalent at Dublin,” he says. “The debates and conversations that we have are really mature and rich. Before I got here, I didn’t know too much and I wasn’t totally interested, to be honest, and here, I can ask my friends questions and learn things that I didn’t know. And I think it’s all really important.”

“There’s a lot of logic involved in thinking about social justice,” says Atlas. “While I am someone who relies a lot on sentiment, I feel very much guided and empowered by my logical side, especially when I hear people make arguments based on fallacies. In today’s society, I am starting to realize that some people’s thoughts and arguments are contrary to the truth. And they are usually negative. I’m very passionate about a person’s freedom to express their identity. And when I hear people making arguments against refugees or about people who are practicing Islamophobia, I get frustrated. Seeing people support arguments against those ideas with actual logic gives me ways to help argue against those arguments. People care about social justice here, and it is intellectual, and it is thorough.”

This kind of intellectual, thorough examination of an issue, topic, or question feels, to Atlas, part of the fabric of life at Dublin.

“Music at Dublin is also very intellectual,” he says. “I really enjoy looking at music through a critical lens. I love its structure. I am taking a Music Theory Independent Study this year, and that’s something I want to learn more about and share: its history, why it sounds good structurally. Dubliners and a cappella are strong.”

Atlas and Devyn Itula, ’18, lead the campus a cappella group.

“I want to help make the a cappella group a really intellectual group,” Atlas says. “I want us to try to be the best musicians we can. We need to learn music and learn its structure and analyze it.”

Cross Country 2016

Cross Country 2016

Atlas has long been a running fanatic; he loves trail running and cross country. Here, he loves that “the coaches have a very scientific approach to running.” In addition, he adds: “I took this Physiology of Endurance Sports and Anatomy last year, and I learned so much about sports science. It changed what I eat before and after workouts. In cross country, we look at heart rates. You can tell what zone of exertion an athlete is in, and we use heart rate monitors to see how well we are training, if we are training at the right rate.”

In and outside of the classroom, Atlas finds himself learning through conversation and learning around other people who want to learn, who are curious, who want to approach what they do with intention and clarity.

“In small class size, with other engaged students, and with really awesome teachers, I am able to be as curious as I want,” he says.

“The teachers are so knowledgeable and smart and supportive, and I think a lot of students here enjoy talking to their teachers,” he adds.

When Atlas reflects on his two years at Dublin, he notes that he has been encouraged to learn to gain knowledge. He knows that he is already a curious, motivated learner, and he knows that Dublin’s intellectualism has only supported his discoveries.

In Physics, for example, he says that “there were so many different levels of understanding you could have. You could find the right formula and plug the numbers in, but eventually, you can explain a phenomenon with many different languages.”

“We wanted to ‘know the stuff,’” Atlas says. “It wasn’t learning physics to pass the test or anything else. It was learning because we want to know it and understand it.”From running to the Physics classroom to conversations on the quad about social justice to the literature circle, Atlas enjoys the focus on process and the tendency of his peers, teachers, and coaches to encourage learning, curiosity, and discovery.

“I like to learn through conversation, and that’s what we do,” he says.


Rachael Jennings