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)
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.”
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.