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The study of the humanities is one way in which we take part in the conversation that humankind has been having with itself for centuries in an attempt to understand itself and the world in which it lives. In these courses, the students, along with the faculty, study the accomplishments of humanity (history) and its own ideas about itself and the world (philosophy, literature). Finally, students and faculty take part in the conversation in an active way through written and oral expression of ideas as they attempt to grapple with, understand and explain them.
Humanities in grades six, seven and eight:
- History: Students in the sixth grade study ancient history, including the civilizations of the Fertile Crescent, Egypt, Greece and Rome. They learn about the rise and fall of empires and the human achievements in those civilizations that continue to affect modern society. Students in the seventh grade study medieval history, from the rise of Christianity to the Renaissance, focusing on such topics as the agricultural revolution, the growth of cities and the development of nations. Eighth grade students study geography with an emphasis on how land and water formations shape political, economic and cultural life.
- Literature and Composition: These courses lay the foundation for the writing program that continues through high school, including its connection to the literature that the students are reading and discussing. The years include a full review of grammar, including parts of speech, parts of a sentence, phrases, clauses, compound and complex sentences and mechanics. By the end of the eighth grade, the students have been introduced, at the level of the paragraph, to the basic five-part structure of the ninth and tenth grade essays. They are also familiar with the requirements for precise introduction and thorough development of their ideas, a vocabulary and set of skills they will use throughout the Thomas MacLaren School program. In addition, through the reading and discussing of great literature, they will have developed the skills necessary to offer substantial participation in the high-school Humane Letters courses.
Middle School History Curriculum in Detail.
Humanities in grades nine through twelve:
- Humane Letters Seminar: The course is an integrated approach to the humanities, with the understanding that the various fields of the humanities – literature, history, philosophy – while distinct disciplines, ultimately are not separate. They form a cohesive whole in understanding humanity. The heart of the program is the seminar.
During the ninth and tenth grades, students learn American and Western European history, respectively. The literature and philosophy they study parallels the historical time periods and the geographic regions they study. This literature and philosophy, however, are not simply meant to be a historical supplement, but are studied as works that contribute to an understanding of the human condition. At this level, the seminar teacher plays a very active part in the discussion—guiding, probing, questioning and instructing—helping the students learn how to learn in the seminar setting.
In the eleventh and twelfth grades, historical narrative moves to the background and the courses focus on the ideas and issues, which are articulated in the readings. Works are taken from the Greek classics, the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures (eleventh grade) and medieval to modern authors (twelfth grade). The skills necessary for careful reading, effective analytical writing and discussion which have been developed through the work of the previous four years are now employed as the means of learning in these last two years of the program. The students begin to deal seriously with questions of the human condition: What is reality? How do we know what we know? Where is it all headed? How, then, ought we to live?
As the students read these texts, their skills of analysis are further sharpened. They learn to comprehend and analyze dense, complicated material. Students begin to refine their writing style while continuing to execute clear, substantial analysis of the texts. Even more, however, the students begin to grapple with the perennial human questions, attempting to understand themselves and the world around them. In this regard, their reading of great fiction and poetry is essential.
At this level, the seminar teachers begin to be a less active part of the discussion, as the students step forward to take leadership of the conversation. Their own inquiry and analytical abilities drive the discussion and the teacher is able to act as a moderator and active participant in the discussion.
For more information, see Humane Letters Curriculum in Detail.