Calling in the Troops

If you haven’t been reading me for a while, you might not know that I am VERY collaborative.  I’m TICKLED when someone emails me to ask if I’ll share resources with them (I get a lot of hits from Google for “film in the classroom” and “film and literature,” and I’ve shared my film and lit syllabi and eight-year plans with about 7 readers so far… by the way, if you’re one of them, hit me up and let me know how your class went / is going, wouldja?).

It’s because I’m so willing to share what I have that I’m also willing to ask for what I need, and I need some help.

OKAY, Smart People: I am not going to lie to you; I’m freaking out a little bit about teaching this humanities class.

I’m teaching a range of freshmen – and by “a range,” I mean I’ve got kids in class who are obviously hooked into this English/history thing and are eager to play the game, and I’ve kids who, let’s be honest, would probably have to work up a sweat to care any less than they do about this class.  I’ve got kids who are fairly confident readers (and who, by the looks of the few things they’ve written for me so far, are pretty competent writers) and kids who are really not.  I’ve got kids who come into class vibing at least some energy and a few who come in dragging tail (though, to be fair, the new schedule is, I think, not going to last past this school year.  My current schedule is two humanities classes back to back; one for AN HOUR AND A HALF, FIRST THING IN THE MORNING, EVERY DAY – and yes, I meant to yell that – and the other is 45 minutes immediately following that class.  In January, the sections will flip, so the skinny block kids will occupy the long block and vice-versa.  It’s brutal, and I’m going to suggest that, next year, we try a college-style, M/W/F, T/TH schedule but, for now, I’ve got what I’ve got).

My problem (and I can see it clearly) is that “humanities” usually covers everything from pre-historic Egyptian culture to, you know, yesterday, taking into account nearly EVERY aspect of human culture and society; politics, literature, fine art, music, theatre, economics, religion, language… you get the idea.   Now, I’m smart enough to know two things: A) even though I’ve got a whole year with these kids (for AN HOUR AND A HALF, FIRST THING IN THE MORNING, EVERY DAY!  ah-hem.  Sorry; that’s a thing for me), there’s NO POSSIBLE WAY I’m going to be able to get through everything and B) even if I COULD, the kids really couldn’t take it.  More to the point, *I* don’t really see the VALUE in slogging through the whole catalogue of human existence, so I can’t really justify that kind of slog to the kids.

So far, I’ve covered:

a) the things that make up societies (culture, religion, politics, economics, and social concerns)
b) the difference between ‘observation’ and ‘analysis’
c) a quick overview of how they see themselves. I’m working up to an identity project in which they incorporate the elements of their society to see how those things affect who they are and how they see themselves.  In the coming week, they’ll do some investigation of the different aspects of society and consider how those things affect how they see themselves as they compose a visual project that represents their own sense of identity.  I’ve also got an exercise lined up where they’ll look at HONY photographs and discern how people choose to represent themselves in the portraits, addressing issues of perspective, lighting, angle, and composition.

Beyond that, though, I’m kind of struggling to make a comprehensive, coherent, and cohesive plan.

So, here’s where you, the aforementioned Smart People, come in.  If you were to take my humanities course, what aspects would you want that course to highlight (given that you can have literally everything from pre-historic Egypt to, you know, yesterday)?  What are the important things that you think we need to understand from our collective past that help us to understand our collective present?  What kinds of concepts, big ideas, or key themes should kids get spit out of high school really understanding?  What can they learn in my classroom that’s going to make their lives richer, easier, and more productive?

I have pretty much complete academic freedom here; there’s no textbook, which is both a blessing and a curse; it means I don’t have to follow an arbitrary framework, but it also means I have no guidance and no materials ready-made for me.  I have computers for every student and there is pretty regular internet access.  I can use film, I have a great art teacher across the hall, and the history teacher and I are buddies, so there’s some decent support there.  If I’m creative enough (and have enough lead time), I can probably get any materials I need.

Aaaannnnd, GO!



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6 responses to “Calling in the Troops

  1. `Rowan

    Do the students really understand that the people they are studying were (are) REAL? They had friends and enemies, dreams, fears, problems, etc. Also. my students seemed to enjoy writing about events from a different point of view, These were second language learners, very low on the socio economic scale, and amazed that the record of The Alamo would be different in Mexico than the U,S, They were also amazed that they could show respect to religions or no religion without compromising their own beliefs. Love seeing the minds expanding!
    Don’t know if this is helpful but perhaps it might trigger something else. I’ve also had them do academic scrapbook pages.
    Good to see you back!

    • Rowan! VERY helpful! I hadn’t considered the “write an event from a different point of view,” though so much of my focus this year is going to be trying to pry them out of “thinking like an American.”

      The “understand and respect something without compromising your own beliefs” idea is a HUGE one, and one that goes well beyond religion. That’s also something I plan to focus on, though I suspect that will be an ongoing effort.

      Can you share any SPECIFIC projects or ideas (beyond the Alamo example, which is excellent)? I’m trying to figure out where on the timeline (from pre-historic Egypt to yesterday) to aim; I have NO intention of covering it all – and in fact am happy to spend a month or more looking closely at one aspect of one culture, event, or concept – but I don’t really know where to zero in.

      • `Rowan

        The Civil War/War of Northern Aggression/War Between the States is an event that evokes very strong emotions, Do students know that people were conscripted; that you could tell by the names of the churches which side they supported; that it didn’t begin over slavery per se but was state’s rights? Do they know that you can tell if one is a Yankee of not by the way one pronounces Appalachia?
        Sharyn McCrumb has done much research and written not only fiction (especially “Ghost Riders”), but several non fiction papers. I just finished reading her very well researched novel “Kings Mountain” about the Over Mountain Boys during the Revolutionary War. I preferred Ghost Riders (Civil War era) but Kings Mountain was full of strategy and logistics.
        Joey and Rory Feek have a music video called “Josephine” (YouTube) that I’ve used with my students and they have just finished a movie by the same name. I’ve also used the song “Shiloh Hill” (on YouTube performed by Garry Sanders)
        Then again, how about the “Great Depression”, or WWII? How about the Mormons being driven out of Missouri with an extermination order (that was only lifter a few years ago) and yet, being asked to send a battalion of men to aid the US? The Handcart Companies, the good and the bad done by good and bad people. (Think about the “Holy Wars”) Even the controversy over the Confederate flag today. Does it mean the same thing to everyone?
        Oh my, we could have such wonderful conversations about any or all historical events!
        If you’d like to chat email me and we can set up a time that works.

  2. Create passports from a variety of countries and have them research and write their “backgrounds,” immigration status, and journey to the USA. They could be from across the Rio Grande or Syria in modern times or from Ireland or Prussia years ago.

  3. There is Great Courses series by Rufus Fears that offers a good example of how to approach the daunting challenge of covering recorded history by comparing common themes found in great books across ages and cultures – Books That Have Made History: Books That Can Change Your Life.

    The first lecture (Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers From Prison) gives an excellent overview of how he selected the books to cover while comparing how two people with the same classical German education followed such different moral paths during WWII. If you only read/listen to this one lecture you will see how he wove his central themes across thousands of years and many different cultures. It was a powerful story to use to illustrate his approach.

    I picked up the series at the library. Good Reads has a page that gives an overview with several comments.

    Good luck to you! I’ll look forward to hearing how the year goes.

  4. I have always liked the idea of travel brochures from various points of view. They should aim to market an industry from their lens.

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