The Lamp

A Holderness School journal committed to critical reflection and fostering conversation around issues connected to independent schools and education in general.

All The Learning We Can See

Dr. Nicole Brittingham Furlonge, English Department Chair

Take a stroll through Carpenter and browse the vibrant student gallery. The miniatures hanging on the walls are “Line and Color Personified” artworks, visual responses to our All School Read, Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See.  Drawing on theories of line personality and color psychology, Teacher-Artist Alli Plourde asked her students to, in this their first lesson related to Doerr’s novel, conceptualize, plan, and create pieces that effectively personify someone close to them. After completing the pieces, students wrote reflections on the person represented through the drawings. This  assignment invites students to engage in creative inquiry as they connect with the way Marie Laure, a central character in the novel who is blind, “sees” auras of color in relation to the people in her life.

Drawings by Erica Ashby '18, Samantha Smith '16, and Ella Mure '17

These line drawings are but one way in which the All School Read has been visible on campus so far this year. The public presence at Holderness of Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See this Fall speaks to a key purpose in having an All School Read: to emphasize reading as a social practice, as a way to build and engage in and cultivate community around story. We know historically and cognitively the power of story. Narrative is a key mode through which humans communicate and process information; it is how we make sense of the world, and, as cognitive scientists insist, how we most effectively make learning stick. Our community’s learning around the All School Read aims to cultivate a lifelong practice and love of reading.

Our School’s 14th All School Read selection, All the Light We Cannot See, has illumined our community’s curiosity and creativity in a variety of ways. The novel served as a platform for personal reflection and department collaboration during Opening Faculty Meetings. Maggie Mumford’s Anatomy and Physiology class referenced the novel in their discussions of the brain. The novel resonates in the photographs students in Franz Nikolay’s Advanced Photography class created and recently displayed in Schoolhouse. During a Thursday Chapel, student Keying Yang performed “Clair de Lune,” a lovely and musically challenging Debussy composition that resonates in Doerr’s novel. What constitutes Honor in the novel was a topic of sit down dinner conversation following Nigel Furlonge’s Chapel Talk on Honor earlier in the Fall. At a second dinner, colorful graphics of the electromagnetic spectrum generated conversations about the significant gap between the light we can see and the light we physically cannot see. 

And what better way to share ideas than to broadcast -- or, in this case, podcast -- them? In English classes with Jini Sparkman, Bruce Paro, and me, tenth graders wrote, designed, and recorded podcasts -- our 21st century democratized form of radio broadcasting -- to share their thinking about this novel with the Holderness School community. We explored prevalent objects in the novel --  fliers drifting from the hatches of fighter planes; shells and gems collected and categorized; radios that are tinkered with, confiscated, and used in strategic ways. Each student partnered with one to two other classmates, selected an object from the novel on which to focus, conducted research and interviews, and engaged in a collaborative effort resulting, ultimately, in a podcast like this one -- one of several shared at a Listening Station in Weld Hall during Parents Weekend:

It’s no wonder that All the Light We Cannot See has fueled so much inquiry and creativity. Two of the novel’s key protagonists are remarkable teenagers -- the demographic of our student readers. As Bruce Barton described in his proposal to the Secret and August Committee -- the group charged with the important task of selecting the All School Read each year -- Doerr’s novel is a “page-turner [that] focuses on two young people, one German and one French, coping with WWII and its implications… Mix into this the mystery of a rare jewel and you have a fabulous story of two teens whose personal destiny involves the other.” What is also quite striking about this novel -- and what, to me, has made it such a compelling text to explore, discuss, and teach -- are the many ways in which it thinks through and across multiple disciplinary lenses. As Doerr reflects, “I have always felt that it’s a little artificial to divide the sciences and the arts on college campuses. I’ve looked for ways to unite those two things in all five of my books. I’m doing that with Werner as much as with Marie, but trying to say, ‘Here's something I’m amazed at by the world,’ and I’m trying to use narrative to help get other people amazed by those things, too” ( It is exciting to think about what this kind of interdisciplinary engagement looks like -- in learning, in life. Not only does this novel present a compelling story crafted masterfully; it also challenges us to read, inquire, and create flexibly, openly -- to train our sights well beyond the immediately visible.