Governor’s School of North Carolina
Opening Windows to Educational Excellence

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What is Governor’s School?

Every year, eight hundred of the brightest, most talented rising seniors in North Carolina spend six weeks of their summer at Governor’s School of North Carolina. In this page, we attempt to describe the School, but as any alumnus can tell you, Governor’s School is something that cannot be adequately described, only experienced.

Governor’s School History

The Governor’s School of North Carolina was the first school of its type. Today, there are 47 similar programs in 34 states, many of which are built on the North Carolina model. The idea for the school began in 1960. GS was the brainchild of then Governor Terry Sanford. Sanford envisioned an educational opportunity for the best students to immerse themselves in modern concepts and cross-disciplinary thinking. To Sanford and other educators, public schools served the needs of the masses, but did not promote the needs of the gifted students.

Governor’s School was the result of this idea. The school first opened its doors in 1963 on the campus of Salem College in Winston-Salem NC. Two hundred students attended an eight-week course. The various classes were taught by college professors and other experts in their fields. The School was such a success that the next year it wasexpanded and offered to 400 students.

In 1968, Jim Bray became the director of the School. Bray was the active, outgoing champion of the School from then until his retirement in 1995. Over those years, the school was expanded further, to eight hundred students on two campuses. Bray also worked with other states to help them start their own schools, and eventually was made the Chairman of the President’s Council on Governor’s Schools, a national body that oversees similar programs throughout the United States.

Times have changed, but Governor’s School has maintained its focus of providing modern eduational concepts, the teaching of theory over fact, and the importance of interdisciplinary education. It is also important to note that many programs that are available to students today, such as GT classes, GT Magnet schools, and the NC School of the Arts and School of Math and Science, evolved from the Governor’s School model.

For more details about Governor’s School, see the official North Carolina Department of Public Instruction Governor’s School Website.

Governor’s School Curriculum

The GS curriculum is set forth in a document entitled Opening Windows, written for the Governor’s School in 1961. Each student takes classes in three areas.

Area I

Area I is the student’s selected area of study. In their selected field, students learn the lastest in modern concepts and theory within that area. The fields are:

Choral Music
Instrumental Music
Natural Science
Social Science
Creative Technology (1986-88)

While we cannot give you a complete run-down of everything that is learned in all fields, we can tell you that one student in Natural Science studied modern atomic theory, genetics, theories on the origin of life (including Creationism), and Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity. Drama students study the works of recent playrights such as Eugene Ionesco, Tom Stoppard, and Samual Becket. Instrumental Musicians study to works of John Cage and other avant-garde composers, as well as the theories behind those works. In fact, in all fields, the emphasis is not upon teaching facts, but theories. The general idea is that anyone can learn a fact, but that a good student can learn the underlying theories that make a fact true and how to form and advance such theories.

Area II

Area II is, in its simplest form, a study of thought. In this area, GS students learn how to think, how to interrelate the facts and theories that they learn in Area I. They learn to seek correlations between theories in seemingly disparate fields. (What is the physics that drives music? How can songs be expressed mathematically? What new ideas in the social sciences drive radical shifts in the arts? How can a play spark a social revolution?) In public shcools, students learn what to know. In Area I, they learn what to think about. In Area II, they learn how to think.

Area III

Area III is devoted to psychology. It was discovered during the first GS sessions that this sudden rush of thoughts, theories, and ideas was a lot for a high school student to handle. Thus, Area III was added to give the students a forum in which to discuss their feelings of insecurity, stress, or happiness. Area III is both a release for the students and a class on the basics of modern psychological theories.

Area 3

Governor’s School Experience

Some might say that the curriculum is the school, but that’s not true. You can know everything that is taught in every discipline at GS and still not know what it’s all about. For six weeks, a gifted student gets to hang out with other students who are just as talented as they are. The friends that you make at GS are the best friends you will ever have. The atmosphere promotes conversation, sharing ideas and theories that would make either confuse your home-town classmates or get you laughed out of class. One of the hardest things about GS is making the transition back to regular life.

It’s hard to explain, but imagine living in a world where everyone is smart, everyone is working on the same things, no idea is too strange, no person is too weird, and everyone is perfectly relaxed with the idea of starting up a conversation with a total stranger. Imagine friends that you can be open and honest with, share dreams, debate imaginations, and look for meaning in things that most students your age would gape at in confusion. It’s an intellectual and imaginative rush. Have you ever been so happy, so content with yourself and your surroundings that it was almost like a euphoric high? Every GS student has. And when it’s over, there are tears, promises, and hopes going home with every student. It cannot be explained. It can only be experienced.

That’s Governor’s School. It’s the best, most eye-opening, most life-changing experience that a high-school intellectual can have. Everyone comes home just a little different than when they left. They are more open. They make friends easier. They think. If anything, GS teaches you to think, to value knowledge for its own sake, to look beyond the facts and find out why, to open your horizons to everything, to never be afraid to be different, and to challenge everything in the light of new ideas.