In 1965, Dyke Brown opened The Athenian School in the foothills of Mt. Diablo. Unusual for its time, when almost all boarding schools were single sex and not admitting students of color, Athenian was coeducational and successfully recruited students of color and international students. Dyke knew that a community that drew upon the talents of many different kinds of students would best enrich the learning environment for everyone.
Dyke attended the Salem School in Germany under headmaster Kurt Hahn. Hahn is known for his prescient approach to education (read his “Six Declines of Modern Youth” and “Ten Expeditionary Learning Principles”). He founded Outward Bound, the Round Square organization, the United World College movement, and Salem and Gordonstoun Schools, and he notably took a public stance against Hitler in 1933 when his commitment to anti-fascism landed him in prison for five days before he was forced to leave Germany. Hahn had a big influence on Dyke Brown’s view of the world (despite Hahn having called him a “privileged brat” when he arrived at Salem School!). Kurt Hahn’s philosophy was rooted in a deep respect for young people and believed that an education could counter society’s “corrupting influence” if it gave students opportunities to see the results of their actions.
Dyke’s early experiences, including schooling at UC Berkeley, Oxford, and Yale Law School, followed by his enlisting in the Navy during World War II and then working for the Youth Development programs at the Ford Foundation, instilled in him the conviction that Kurt Hahn’s hypothesis about young people was correct. Dyke envisioned a school that would protect students from the “corrupting influences of society” by creating a protected reality for them to learn, grow, and thrive. Students would be able to let their natural and innate curiosity and goodness thrive through their teenagehood so when they did finally “meet” the world, they would have a strong inner core.
Over the next five decades, The Athenian School has grown and diversified to include a day student program, a Middle School, and a summer program. Now over 50 years old, Athenian continues to pursue active learning as it prepares young people for lives of intellectual exploration and meaningful contribution.
Athenians have attempted to outline the full scope of an Athenian education many times throughout the years, but the task is a challenging one as it touches on the full scope of what it means to be human. The Round Square pillars are a useful way of thinking about Athenian’s values. Dyke Brown drew a “mandala” that mapped the curriculum and outcomes of an Athenian education into seven understandings and capabilities. In the 90s, the School wrote a comprehensive mission statement that weaves many of our principles together in written form. And students have reinvented the mandala in recent years. While challenging to offer an exhaustive representation of who we are, the commonalities in all these models is the respect for young people and their potential, a well-rounded development of human capacities, real-world learning opportunities, and a safe, loving community. It may be hard to define in just a few words, but once you step onto our campus and join our community, you’ll feel for yourself what it means to be an Athenian.