Category Archives: Humanities

Building Humanities

It’s been over 10 years, but my return to teaching World History is an exciting one. At Sandwich High School, freshman students have the opportunity to take a full year (two semesters) Humanities course that is team-taught between 9th grade English and 9th grade World History. This year, Sandwich is also rolling out a 1:1 iPad initiative for freshman and sophomore students. It will definitely be an exciting time! I can’t wait for the school year to begin! So, what is the course like? The Program of Studies states,

The Freshman Humanities program is a full year, 2 credit course which integrates English and history through a study of “The Human Condition”.  This is a team taught course led by a history teacher, an English teacher, and a special education teacher who interact with students on a daily basis. Students learn how to read, speak and write across two academic disciplines and will be evaluated on their ability to synthesize their knowledge of history with their understanding of literature through collaborative activities, creative projects, and individual problem solving. Specifically, the course exposes students to a wide variety of literary genres (including poetry, memoir, drama, short story, fiction, and non-fiction) and historical content from the age of ancient Rome to the Enlightenment. This full year team approach affords students the opportunity to improve upon literacy, integration of technology, grammar and vocabulary acquisition cross-disciplinary learning and the development of critical reading and thinking skills over the entirety of their freshman year.

Rome to the Enlightenment! I’ve been thinking all summer about ideas aligned to the themes of the ancient and Renaissance world leading up to the Enlightenment. There’s so much culture and art to cover in Africa, Asia, the Americas, the Middle East, and Europe. There are horrific wars where men fought sometimes needlessly and on other occasions, for the most noble ideals. There are heroes and villains, artists and saints, philosophers and merchants, priests and madmen enough to make the stories come alive in a freshman class. The details come in structuring it.

So the basic structure of the course was determined around six units:

  • The Study of History
  • Africa, Asia, and the Americas
  • Greece and Rome
  • Islam and Christianity
  • Medieval Europe and Feudalism
  • The Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment

From there, I expanded on the units to create a pacing guide throughout the semester. It’s still a work in progress, but the foundation of the course has been laid. From there, I built on the work of others to come up with some essential questions for students. Meant to deepen the instruction, the questions should create curiosity and inquiry as we work through different problems to solve in the weekly topics and units to come. The central question for the class is, “What does it mean to be human?” and I could not think of a better way to explore these eras.

For the Chinese laborer working on the Great Wall, or a French mason helping to build the massive cathedrals, there might be a sense of other-worldliness in helping to construct something far greater than one’s self. For the priests of the Aztecs or the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church, a thread of power runs through all decisions affecting both the mighty rulers or the most common peasant. For the Greek philosopher to the Islamic scholar, questions about our place in the world and our very nature must be asked, and written, for the ages to ponder. When a Crusader knight or a Zulu warrior picks up a weapon, he must wonder about his own mortality and weigh it against either glory or death.

These are some of the qualities of humanity that I am looking forward to exploring once my Humanities class begins.