Category: Humanities

Weekly Reports – Humanities – Weeks Three and Four

Here are some reports from the teachers of each of our Humanities classes for the previous two weeks of the Program. We have organized them by class:

Freshmen Humanities (Ms. Kristen Harrell, Instructor)

Week Three:

At the beginning of the week, we finished talking about the importance of the poleis in Greece, particularly Athens and Sparta, and we watched excerpts of a wonderful documentary about the Battle of Thermopylae from the History Channel. The students’ discussions were great. They were able to give highly in depth answers to why Athens evolved into a direct democracy. Figures such as Solon and Clisthenes were also introduced.


The Persian War was discussed at length including the battles of Marathon and the one at Thermopylae ten years later. We also had a rather fun debate today concerning reality and perception. I showed them how Xerxes was interpreted in the movies 300 and One Night with the King. They immediately recognized that they were the drastically different. One of the main themes of the week seemed to be what is history when we only know it through the lens of the victors.

Week Four:

Although it was a short week, we made great headway in Greek philosophy. We spoke about the life of Socrates and his school of thought concerning Truth. After going over his trial and death, they made the connection between Socrates to other historical figures who’ve been killed for passive beliefs in teaching. They brought up Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and even Jesus to name a few. To introduce Plato, I had the students act out the allegory of the cave. I had students face the wall with their backs to the door. I then placed the overhead projector behind them to mimicking the fire casting shadows and I opened the door for more lighting which mimicked the outside world. I think they really enjoyed when one of the captives left the cave to discover Truth outside.

 

Humanities Two (Mr. Cody Magee, Instructor)

Week Three:

This week we continued working on making connections between dystopian societies in literature and civics/government/class/technology issues in contemporary society.

Week Four:

This week we discussed the beginning of Brave New World, as well as upcoming Utopia Projects. Because our plan is to finish the novel by next Thursday we also spent a class time reading. As a reward for working hard this week (and also to attempt to teach them to stop talking OVER each other) we played a game modeled after the 60’s game show Password.

Humanities Three (Mr. Avee Chaudhuri, Instructor)

Week Three:

This week we wrapped up discussing 1984. This included discussing Emmanuel Goldstein’s The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, which led to fruitful discussions about the cyclical nature of history, economic theory, and the notion of perpetual war. Admittedly, the class did not enjoy the novel as a whole, though they seem to understand why it remains relevant and why it should be read and discussed. The students sat for an essay exam on the book on Wednesday. While they tell me the exam was challenging and difficult, I expect they are either being modest or attempting to assuage my ego, since I wrote the test questions. It was another good week. Students continue to impress. Next week will begin with a discussion of “The Lottery in Babylon” by Jorge Luis Borges, and I will also distribute copies of our next major text, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

Week Four:

Our week began with a discussion of the Jorge Luis Borges story “The Lottery in Babylon.” Borges is a notoriously arcane writer and I’m always a little nervous how well the students will grapple with him, but they did an exemplary job and we had a good discussion about this short story. We then started reading and discussing Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which is a novel-of-dystopia in the tradition of 1984 and Brave New World. To my knowledge, The Handmaid’s Tale has never been taught at the Governor’s Program, and with this in mind I’ve asked students to serve in an advisory role and be honest about how much they’re enjoying the reading experience. While I don’t believe that literary fiction has to be wildly entertaining, I also realize that an engaging text is far more instructive than a tedious one. So far, students claim to be enjoying the book, though some of them have minor squabbles about Atwood’s style.


Weekly Reports – Humanities – Weeks One and Two

Here are some reports from the teachers of each of our Humanities classes for the first two weeks of the Program. We have organized them by class:

Freshmen Humanities (Ms. Kristen Harrell, Instructor)

Week One:
On Monday, we began classes by discussing the Latin phrase on their t-shirts and what that meant in the context of this class and the program. This led into what the Latin and Greek languages were/are and why they were important to Western Civilization. They were given a Greek alphabet sheet as well as a list of ancient Greek names and their meanings. Their homework for the next few days was to choose a name from that list to be their own for the class. This usually leads to a discussion on etymology and the understanding of English words with Greek roots. I also gave them a cheat sheet of sorts that they can use for their cursive handwriting. I have been tremendously proud of them and have told them that they have better handwriting than my high school students.


Also this week, we delved into the pre-Greek culture; the Minoans and the Mycenaeans. We discussed their beliefs their structures and inferred a great deal about their lives by looking at the ruins and artifacts from the palace complex of Knossos. They understood that with a lack of written history, understanding archeology and art history can help fill in the gaps.


The Greek ‘middle ages’ discussion was dominated by the Iliad and the Odyssey and how that sets a standard for any epic tale or journey story for the western world even into modern society. We discussed the Greek hero and what were considered the most desirable traits for a Greek. They agreed that it was different from today’s standards. I quizzed them over this material with an Open Notes Quiz and was able to gauge their progress in composition with a free response worksheet. We finished the week by watching excerpts from the miniseries, “The Odyssey”, and discussing everything from its accuracy, the set design, to the ‘Hollywood’ changes.

Week Two:

We began the week by talking about the importance and the evolution of the polis. How did this change Greek society? How did the polis rise up in importance? The students also analyzed some archaeological evidence. We also had a test over the first week’s material of which I was very pleased, though some of the students might not be. Next, we delved into the ancient Greeks viewed religion and how it differs from modern concepts of religion. These discussions led us into the polytheism of the Greeks; what we know today as Greek mythology. Of course, most of the student adored this part of the lesson.


For the second half of the week, we talked about the colonization of the Greeks in the Mediterranean and its difference from European mercantilism. The students loved our discussion over the polis of Sparta and how the Spartans fear and paranoia led to their military state. We also looked at history in Hollywood and how the subject fares in the medium of cinema. For homework they were asked to answer four critical thinking questions/prompts concerning Sparta.

Humanities Two (Mr. Cody Magee, Instructor)

Week One:

This week we set foundations for the course, discussed Utopia as an ideal and how that ideal fails when applied in real life. We read some short stories in the genre and discussed matters of justice and morality. We also discussed the historical context of the stories and how literature can serve as the window into studying any one time or period.

Week Two:

This week we worked on more dystopian literature. We finished reading the second part of Fahrenheit 451, as well as two short stories. We discussed some parallels between these “future worlds” and our own. Finally, we continued applying some of the issues regarding equality, freedom, social justice, and civics as we moved forward to begin designing our own utopia.

Humanities Three (Mr. Avee Chaudhuri, Instructor)

Week One:

Class began in earnest on Tuesday when we discussed dystopia and utopia within the context of the “GPGC Canon.” The students talked about the texts they’ve read during previous summers: Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, and The Giver, and how these books have helped inform their understanding of real-world dictatorships and totalitarian states. As usual, the students are able to discuss grave subjects in a very mature, intelligent, incisive and often humorous manner. On Wednesday, students received their copies of 1984 and we discussed the historical backdrop against which Orwell wrote both 1984 and Animal Farm. We also talked more generally about why speculative dystopian fiction remains so popular in the West. On Thursday, we discussed the first four chapters of 1984. Popular topics from that discussion include the idea of conformity, surveillance, and whether our society, like Oceania’s, has become too desensitized to violence and human suffering (the students say “no”). On Friday, students presented on Donald Barthelme’s “I Bought a Little City.”

Week Two:

The students spent Monday finishing their individual presentations on “I Bought A Little City” by Donald Barthelme. Tuesday through Thursday were devoted to class discussion on 1984. These discussions are going well, although I’ve had to remind the class about providing textual evidence to support their comments about the novel. Recurring topics were the psychosexual development of Winston and Julia, Julia’s hedonism, competing epistemological philosophies and their relevance to a totalitarian state, and the relationship between language and thought. On Friday, we held a show trial or kangaroo court in class. I do this to demonstrate how arbitrary and absurd justice can be in a singleminded, totalitarian state. We tried Bronson Jordan for several heinous crimes, including murdering a Papa John’s delivery man, slapping a fellow student, stealing brain bucks, and using his editorial position on The Thinker to embarrass GPGC teachers. Naturally, he claims to be innocent. We will wrap up our discussion of 1984 next week and the students will sit for an essay exam on 1984 on Thursday or Friday.


Weekly Reports – Humanities

Here are some reports from the teachers of each of our Humanities classes for the first two weeks of the Program. We have organized them by class:

Freshmen Humanities (Ms. Kristen Harrell, Instructor)

Week One:

On Monday, we began classes by discussing the Latin phrase on their t-shirts and what that meant in the context of this class and the program. This led into what the Latin and Greek languages were/are and why they were important to Western Civilization. They were given a Greek alphabet sheet as well as a list of ancient Greek names and their meanings. Their homework for the next few days was to choose a name from that list to be their own for the class. This usually leads to a discussion on\ etymology and the understanding of English words with Greek roots. Also this week, we delved into the pre-Greek culture; the Minoans and the Mycenaeans. We discussed their beliefs their structures and inferred a great deal about their lives by looking at the ruins and artifacts from the palace complex of Knossos. They understood that with a lack of written history, understanding archaeology and art history can help fill in the gaps. The Greek ‘middle ages’ discussion was dominated by the Iliad and the Odyssey and how that sets a standard for any epic tale or journey story for the western world even into modern society. We discussed the Greek hero and what were considered the most desirable traits for a Greek. They agreed that it was different from today’s standards. I quizzed them over this material with an Open Notes Quiz and was able to gauge their progress in composition with a free response worksheet. We finished the week by watching excerpts from the miniseries, “The Odyssey”, and discussing everything from its accuracy, the set design, to the ‘Hollywood’ changes.

Week Two:

We began the week by talking about the importance and the evolution of the polis. How did this change Greek society? How did the polis rise up in importance? The students also analyzed some archaeological evidence. We also had a test over the first week’s material of which I was very pleased. Next, we delved into the ancient Greeks viewed religion and how it differs from modern concepts of religion. These discussions led us into the polytheism of the Greeks; what we know today as Greek mythology. Of course, most of the student adored this part of the lesson.

For the second half of the week, we talked about the colonization of the Greeks in the Mediterranean and its difference from European mercantilism. The students loved our discussion over the polis of Sparta and how the Spartans fear and paranoia led to their military state. We also looked at history in Hollywood and how the subject fares in the medium of cinema. For homework they were asked to answer four critical thinking questions/prompts concerning Sparta. They had plenty to say on the subject.

Humanities Two (Mr. Thomas Parrie, Instructor)

Week One:

We began the week with a discussion on what a utopian society is. Additionally, we discussed dystopias and the relationship between the two societal extremes. We read three short stories, “There Will Come Soft Rains,” by Ray Bradbury, “Harrison Bergeron,” by Kurt Vonnegut, and “The Lottery,” by Shirley Jackson. We discussed the types of societies and governmental structures in the stories. We talked about utopian/dystopian societies in history. I also taught them literary terms such as “foreshadowing” and “through line.” Next on our reading list is Fahrenheit 451 by Bradbury.

Week Two:

This week we delved further into Fahrenheit 451 and discussed themes of alienation and disillusion, as well the effects of propaganda and mob mentality. We questioned the motives of the main characters and speculated what happened in the past and what might happen in the future in the novel’s world. We did some comparative analysis between “Soft Rains” and 451 as both were written by Bradbury. I asked them to pick one sentence or phrase in the novel that felt or seemed most poetic and to write it on the board, after which we had a poem that complemented the novel. Next week, I’m assigning to write a one to one half page response to the book in which they explain what they think. We will also begin Lord of the Flies.

Humanities II

Bronson Jordan ready to leap into a discussion during Humanities II.

 

Humanities Three (Mr. Avee Chaudhuri, Instructor)

Week One:

Generally, the students have been wonderful. They are certainly engaged in the class and have insightful comments to make about the texts we’ve been reading. We’re 100 pages into 1984.  We also read Donald Barthelme’s “I Bought a Little City”, which deals prominently with themes of tyranny, dystopia, and megalomania, though in a far less explicit (and arguably more artful) way than 1984. On Friday, they all presented on “I Bought a Little City.” Since this story is a bit more mature and ambiguous, I was a little concerned with how fully the students would understand it. However, almost all of the students were able to connect the story to 1984’s salient themes, as well as the class’s larger focus on utopia and dystopia. I am extremely impressed with the level of thought and self-expression the students have shown, both in these presentations and throughout the week during class discussions. Next week, the students will finish reading and discussing 1984, read, discuss and give presentations on Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Babylon Lottery”, and conduct a Kangaroo Court/Show Trial (postponed due to time).

Week Two:

During the second week of Humanities III, the class continued their lively discussion of dystopia.  The week began with a Kangaroo Court in which the class made false accusations against a single student, who happily volunteered to be put on trial. The point of this exercise was to imitate the arbitrary and illogical nature of judicial proceedings in failed states and dystopias. The class seemed to enjoy it and we will have at least one more Kangaroo Court during the semester. We spent Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday continuing to discuss 1984 and comparing the world it depicts to other ‘real life’ and literary dystopias. I am impressed with the class’s grasp of history. Several students confidently compared elements from the novel to Ancient Sparta, Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia and the North Korea of the present. On Friday, students gave short, individual presentations on the Jorge Luis Borges short story “The Babylon Lottery.” Borges is a complex, highly erudite writer who is concerned with metaphysics, and I was slightly nervous as to how well this story would be understood. However, based on their presentations, the students seemed to fully comprehend the story and its relevance to our ongoing discussion about dystopia. Ultimately, this is a discussion centered course, or literary seminar, and it is largely the students’ onus to provide for a stable, civil, and earnest intellectual environment. So far, they’ve exceeded all expectations.