Humanities & History
We believe that students learn best through inquiry and practice of a critical and creative nature that encourages them to take personal and intellectual risks. Our interdisciplinary Humanities courses nurture a love of literature and history while leading students to understand the world and its many cultures, past and present. The program helps students to develop empathy for the full range of human experience and emotion and to refine the skills of communication and expression needed to engage as citizens of the global community.
During the first week of school, every student in the sixth grade Humanities course embarks on a personal journey of discovery. Without looking, each student takes a turn using a finger to stop a spinning globe; wherever they land determines the country they will study as part of a year-long research project. In addition to this individual geography study, sixth graders investigate journeys that change people and the world. They explore the world’s diverse religions, geography and countries through literature, nonfiction, periodicals, films, interviews, presentations from guest speakers and field trips. Creative projects and daily practice lead students to build their reading, writing, research, presentation and study skills. Students read for pleasure, discussion, fluency and information; they write to discover, develop and organize their ideas, to argue a point, and to move an audience. They study vocabulary, dictionary usage, parts of speech and basic sentence structure. Literature selections in past years have included Rules of the Road, The Watsons Go To Birmingham, 1963, The Canterbury Tales, Shadow Spinner, Adventures on the Ancient Silk Road, The Real Vikings, Habibi, A Long Walk to Water, Zlata the Goat, Beowulf, To the Edge of the World, selected poems, folk tales and short stories. Students also build the skills essential to the study of history: understanding timelines and dates, recognizing cause-and-effect relationships and thinking critically. Throughout the course of the year, every student constructs a hand-drawn map of the world. Their country studies and the world maps are shared in a magnificent Foote tradition in the spring, the Festival of the World. Along the way, our sixth graders learn about geography, migrations, religious pilgrimages, the impact of international trade and the meaning of discovery.
Seventh grade students explore the theme of change as it pertains to history, literature and themselves. We start by looking at what happens when different cultures meet, focusing in particular on American Indians, Europeans and Africans. Coming-of-age stories form the backdrop for our study of the American Revolution, as students look at the issue of independence in literature, history and our world. Finally, students explore the theme of conflict through examples from literature, the antebellum South and contemporary society.
In Humanities, students develop reading, writing, thinking, speaking and information skills. Through a variety of literary genres students build an understanding of theme, symbolism and tone; they read primary and secondary historical sources for main ideas and supporting details. They are guided in organizing their study materials and in taking effective notes. Gaining map and geography proficiency, understanding time lines and dates, and learning the research process are central. Students work independently on long-range projects including Early America Day in the fall and a more formal research paper in the spring.
In past years, literature selections have included April Morning, Sees Behind Trees, The Light in the Forest, The Crucible, Seedfolk, To Kill a Mockingbird, To Be a Slave, and a Shakespeare play.
A highlight of the year occurs on Early America Day on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, when each seventh grader assumes the identity of an individual from the early days of European settlement. Early America Day offers students a chance to hone their skills in research, organization and public speaking. Dressed in colonial costumes, students visit classrooms and offices to address enthusiastic audiences and to share their knowledge about influential people from the past.
During the eighth grade year, students study the events, themes, political trends, influential people, social movements and legislative acts that shaped our country from the Reconstruction era through the Civil Rights movement of the mid-20th century. Our course emphasizes central documents and primary sources in American history, including original texts of Supreme Court decisions, photographs, speeches, laws and declarations, correspondence, political cartoons, newspaper and magazine articles from historical events, and Constitutional amendments. The history comes alive through case studies of central events or people who exemplify the themes of each time period and through a three-day class trip to Washington, D.C. Students also read and analyze the works of accomplished historians, whose writing offers models for linguistic style, organization of topics, presentation of opinions, and use of evidence to support ideas. Research and writing projects throughout the year offer opportunities for students to practice these techniques on their own and in groups. At the end of the year they investigate and prepare their own case study related to rights and responsibilities.
The ninth grade humanities course, titled Comparative Cultures, aims to cultivate cross-cultural understanding through examination of and interaction with a variety of cultural groups, from our own multicultural community to China, the Middle East and Africa. We study the complex cultural, political and geographical forces that have shaped each region, and we follow the threads of continuity and change to examine these contemporary societies. We begin the year with a study of the United Nations to give students a framework for thinking about international issues such as human rights and conflict resolution. Throughout this project-based course, students use historical research and inquiry to view issues from multiple perspectives, using literature, films, nonfiction texts, periodicals and museum exhibits. In addition, students practice taking notes, debating, writing critically and making oral presentations. The centerpiece of the course is an optional two-week study tour in China, where students spend four nights with a host family from Yali, our sister school in Changsha. In past years, text selections have included Fires in the Mirror, Things Fall Apart, China A to Z, Red Scarf Girl, The Good Earth, In the Country of Men, and a variety of contemporary newspapers, periodicals, blogs, speeches, government documents, short stories, poems, films, historical and contemporary maps and other primary and secondary sources.
The sixth grade Festival of the World caps a yearlong study of global cultures, religions and geography. Each student studies a different country, creating a range of informational and artistic projects, including a model of a famous landmark.
Assistant Head of School
Beth Mello oversees the school's curriculum development; diversity, inclusion and social justice initiatives; and faculty professional development.