Our entire year’s curriculum is connected thematically. The overall theme connecting our units is that developing an understanding of who we are in the world enables us to make useful, responsible choices for ourselves, others, and the environment. We must recognize that our world is shrinking, and in order to navigate it effectively we need to be open to the multiple perspectives in our global community. Each unit builds on the skills and content knowledge acquired in the previous ones, so that by the end of the year we expect you to make connections not only between disciplines within each unit, but also between units. Here is a brief description of our course of study.
Unit 1: An Interdependent and Globalized World
THEME: Seeing The World Through Different Lenses: The Role of Culture, the Environment, and Personal Experience in Shaping a Global Community
This unit is an introduction to the key concepts and analytical tools relevant to the study of our world. You will learn the vocabulary and concepts of critical thinking, which includes recognizing biases and personal assumptions, the basics of map reading and the importance of geography, the principles and elements of religion in a cultural context, and the main ecological concepts needed to understand the connection of science to the humanities. This year will be the foundation for your four-year journey in Core.
Unit 2: Australian Aboriginal Culture and Geography
THEME: A Balanced World: Preserving Ways of Life through an Interdependent Relationship with the Environment
The purpose of this unit is to explore the first step of human social evolution, one of complete dependence on the land. Similar to the dynamics in an ecosystem where all organisms must actively engage with their abiotic and biotic environment in order to survive, humans must also maintain an interdependent relationship with their surroundings to ensure continued existence. You will develop this understanding by examining the social organization, beliefs and art of the Australian Aboriginal culture, which has existed for as long as 60,000 years. This longevity owed much to the high value placed on preserving an intricate relationship with the land, however this way of life was forever changed with the arrival of the Europeans.
Unit 3: Mexican Culture, History, and Geography
THEME: Neither Victory Nor Defeat: The Role of Cultural and Geographic Environments in the Birth of the Mestizo Republic
In the first part of the Mexico Unit, we will begin with the twentieth century and the Mexican muralists, Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Jose Clemente Orozco. These internationally recognized painters reclaimed their traditions and historical roots in their public murals. They provide a perspective that respects and honors the indigenous peoples of Central America in the context of a colonial past that has and continues to dehumanize and oppress this population.
In understanding the legacy that still exists from this history, we will study the Mexica people in their creation of the great city of Tenochtitlan and the conflict that arose from the Spanish Conquest resulting in New Spain and, ultimately, Mexico, as we know it today. This small-scale folk society evolved into a more complex one as they transformed Lake Texcoco into Tenochtitlan and developed the ability to control their environment by learning how to produce their own food.
When the Spanish arrive they recognize the sophistication of the Mexica society; however, the outcome of the conquest is domination by the Spaniards. According to Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond, this is because the geographic and environmental conditions of Spain provide distinct advantages. Nevertheless, the Spaniards are unable to duplicate their culture in the New World due to the Mexica’s complexity and ultimately there was a synthesis of the two. This theme of conflict and synthesis will be analyzed in Rudolfo Anaya’s novel, Bless Me, Ultima, in which the protagonist is a descendant of this legacy.
Unit 4: African Culture, History, and Geography
THEME: A Struggle for Power: From Colonial Oppression to Self-Determination
In this unit we study the motivation for and methods by which the Europeans began to dominate the world in the late 19th century. In particular, the colonization of Africa allowed Europeans to take power away from the once thriving African kingdoms. You will explore the socially constructed concept of race used by the colonizers to dehumanize the native populations, which eventually resulted in a struggle for power and fight for freedom. Then, you will analyze Lorraine Hansberry’s play, Les Blancs, a fictionalized example of this power struggle in which— despite the devastating effects of colonial domination—the main black characters assert their humanity and begin the process of regaining control of their lives.
In the second part of the unit, we look at how these dynamics played out in the country of South Africa, including how black South Africans both violently and non-violently overthrew the Apartheid regime.
Unit 5: Chinese Culture, History, and Geography
THEME: A Shrinking World: Bringing 10,000 Years of Culture into the Twenty-First Century
In the China unit, the major theme of the year focuses on what happens when humans take increased control of the environment and, as a result, need to re-establish an interdependent relationship with the land. This situation is one that China has recently confronted in its quest to become a superpower in the world while realizing the necessity to address the needs of its people and the environment. To understand where China is today you will learn about its origins. You will study the Chinese cultural traditions established in the early dynasties of the Unification Period as well as the philosophies of Taoism and Confucianism that continue to shape the society’s development today. You will also examine the ongoing problems of overpopulation and conflict between preserving traditions and embracing progress, problems that challenged Chinese society throughout Mao’s communist rule. Despite political and economic policies embedded in the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution that attempted to resolve these issues, Mao ended up undermining tradition and greatly harming the environment. To gain a better understanding of how Mao’s communist China affected individual lives, you will read the memoir, Red Azalea, written by Anchee Min.
We finish the unit with a look into contemporary Chinese society, examining the post-Mao China under the leadership of Deng and his successors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. It is undeniable that modern China is swiftly changing and establishing itself as a prominent presence in international economic and political affairs. However, the question of how successfully the Chinese people will maintain their unique customs, centuries-old ethos, and diverse landscapes remains, and it must be examined in order to comprehend the journey the Chinese have taken to finally arrive on the world’s stage.
“We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions
to participate in the process of change.
Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”
— Howard Zinn
Student Leadership Conference
During our final unit we will bring together the underlying theme of the year, “gaining awareness of our increasingly interdependent and globalized world, and taking responsibility for ourselves, others and the environment.” We culminate the year with a Student Leadership Conference on critical global issues. This conference is designed to represent a United Nations meeting where students have the opportunity to present the research materials, debate, discuss, and create plans to navigate the complexity of these issues. Although rendering creative resolutions to global matters may be a daunting task, this conference gives a forum for students to engage in intellectual and critical dialogue about issues pertinent to the 21st century.