History of Humanities
"Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them" - Walt Whitman "A Noiseless Patient Spider"
In 1995 Culver began a major curriculum initiative with the ninth grade Humanities program. Freshmen did not take separate English and history courses but a combined, integrated course with the theme “Prejudice,” each section team-taught by a history instructor and an English instructor. Dr. Richard Davies headed a group who researched this idea, visited other schools with Humanities programs, and developed Culver’s new approach. From that start at the ninth grade level which stressed the concept of connections, the Culver program has evolved. The focus of the 9th grade program changed to the rise and development of Western Civilization with themes and ideas that resonate in all subsequent years of study at Culver. In addition to a content change, we have integrated laptops into our program, adapted to the block schedule, moved away from the team teaching model to the single teacher model, created the 10th grade Globalization-focused Humanities course, and changed the junior year to focus on American history and literature rather than American History and British literature. In the fall of 2007, the separate but coordinated 11th grade courses in American History and American Literature and Culture became a fully integrated year-long American Studies course with two AP options that embrace this curriculum. In 2005 we dissolved the English and History Departments and created the Lower and Upper Humanities Departments. In 2007 we began as a single large Humanities Department with two chairs (one for personnel and one for curriculum) and level coordinators who serve as the key team leaders for the 9th, 10th and 11th grade programs. At the 12th grade level students are still required to take government and choose two English classes from a rich variety of options. They may also take other electives in the history-social studies area, including several AP courses.
What has happened to the traditional concerns and knowledge of English teachers and of history teachers in the midst of all this change? They are alive and well.
No matter the level at which students enter the program, they will find teachers committed to good writing skills, to the fostering of critical thinking, to the development of research skills, and to the practice of the speaking skills, all within a framework of content that we consider important for thoughtful and responsible functioning within our society. Humanities teachers, whether trained in English, history, or humanities, believe that clear and effective communication matters regardless of content or format of an assessment or unit. Students practice good rhetorical skills, including grammar. Teachers help students with the analysis of complex language use, whether in a traditional literary form such as a poem, story, drama or novel, or in historical documents and histories. Themes emerge and interconnect and so develop deep understanding of the topics covered. Patterns of analysis and understanding develop. By integrating history, literature, and art, students discern these connections and patterns. A Whitman poem, a Brady photograph, a slave narrative, a letter of soldier in conjunction with a history text can bring the Civil War and its issues, its horrors, the various motivations of the participants and their points of view, and the War’s enduring ramifications to life for our students almost 150 years after it ended.
Students know when teachers care about their teaching. Humanities teachers are invested in their work for they remain active learners at a new level — from each other and from professional development outside Culver. The weekly meetings at each grade level help with the sharing of fresh ideas and approaches as well as concerns. We value the power of fact, the power of imagination, and how the two depend on each other throughout human experience. We model what we expect of our students: flexibility, curiosity, a love of reading and learning, a passion for language and for understanding where we have been as humans across the millennia, and for where we might go.
Our hope for our students is that they, having experienced Humanities at Culver, will, like Whitman’s “seeking the spheres to connect them,” build bridges to a future - a future in which they will be responsible citizens, providing leadership in a world needing it more than ever.