The benefit of an integrated Humanities curriculum is that it breaks down the boundary between history and English, reminding us that history and the arts are in an ongoing relationship, inspired by and dependent upon one another. A poignant novel, such as Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, can lead directly to social and political change, but it is also a response to its own historical circumstances.
This spring, the Upper School has been studying Modern US History and Literature. This week, the 9th and 10th grade class performed scenes from John Steinbeck's classic novella, Of Mice and Men, as part of our study of westward migration and depression in the 1930's. For historical context we categorized and prioritized reasons why families in the central plains began migrating to California, making critical arguments of cause and effect. Steinbeck's novel only deepened this understanding, by digging into the subtle and poignant qualities of human nature.
An overarching theme for this trimester, and this novel, is the evolution of the American Dream. Keeping this idea in mind, students were able to draw connections between the general dream of people searching for land of their own and self-reliance that sent them driving westward to the specific dream of George and Lennie to buy a ranch and "live offa the fatta the land."
Over the course of the week, the students were also writing their own short stories, inspired by a series of photos from the 1930's. As we discussed elements of literature such as characterization, dialogue, and plot structure in our novel, students were able to immediately apply these skills to their own creative writing. The dialogue exercise was particularly relevant to this dialogue-driven novel and the performances that students practiced, blocked, and performed on Thursday afternoon.
In a single week, students examined primary historical resources, practiced historical interpretation, discussed a novel written and set in the time period we were studying, saw video interviews of people who lived through the Great Depression, wrote stories inspired by 1930's photographs, performed moving scenes from Of Mice and Men, and even started preparing for next week's debate on whether Roosevelt's New Deal was a failure or success. In a Humanities class, this layering of connected content leads to a truly rich and effective educational experience.
-Claire Brislin, Upper School Humanities Teacher