Sample Interdisciplinary Essay Prompts
The culminating assessment of our units, and the cornerstone of our program, is the interdisciplinary essay exam. The following are examples of the essay prompts we are using this year in each grade level. These prompts clearly indicate that our students are challenged with an intellectual rigor that is unparalleled in secondary education.
9th Grade Unit I: Aboriginal Australia
The Australian Aboriginal society has existed for as much as 60,000 years. This longevity resulted from the symbiotic relationship they maintained with their environment through a complex networking of their social, spiritual and natural worlds. In a well-written essay, first explain how science defines a symbiotic relationship. Then, using Rabbit-Proof Fence, show how the Aboriginal society is a quintessential folk society. Next, describe how these nomadic folk societies were able to overcome Australia’s geographic limitations. Finally, discuss the complexity of the culture’s adaptation to nature by describing the beliefs and rules of Dreamtime. To conclude your essay, what do you think are two major lessons we can learn from Aboriginal culture?
10th Grade Unit I: Ancient Greece
Socrates was one of the most revered philosophers from Athens in the 5th Century BCE. He held very specific views of what constituted virtue in society and how it could be taught to its citizens. Provide and thoroughly discuss his definition of virtue and explain how he sought to teach it to others. In addition, you need to make connections to one artwork, one piece of literature, and one historical event that best reflects or challenges his specific definition of and teaching methodology for virtue. Are these particular and specific virtues still relevant in contemporary American society or does our culture esteem other virtues? Fully explain why or why not.
11th Grade Unit II: the American Dream
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common deference, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
At the founding of the United States, the Preamble to the Constitution fostered the possibilities of the American Dream. While the messages of the Dream inspired many and enabled great success over the last two centuries in this country, it also veiled the many systemic limitations and restrictions inherent in “the Dream.” In a well-written coherent essay, explain how the American Dream has both inspired and disillusioned generations of Americans. First, using Franklin, Alger, Conwell, and Spencer, describe how the American Dream was popularized and “sold” to generations of immigrants and Americans; then, counter with the response of the Transcendentalists to the spiritual corruption inherent in the material pursuit of “success.” Next, analyze how the success of the second wave of immigrants impacted the third wave, and explain the historical realities that impeded their success, as seen in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Then, using Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman and Troy Maxson from Fences illustrate how each man’s pursuit of “success” affects both themselves and their families. Finally, discuss what’s in your ”social capital box” and how it impacts YOUR opportunities for success.
12th Grade Unit I: Biology and Ideology
There can be no doubt that evolutionary biology (along with its contemporary offshoots sociobiology and evolutionary psychology) is having a major influence on recent thought about human beings and the way they live in the world, and the big question is how we should evaluate it. So, using Darwin and E.O. Wilson as a starting point, discuss this way of thinking. First, keeping in mind the issue of whether we are animals like all others, discuss what Darwin and Wilson are saying or implying about human nature and our moral lives. Then, in evaluating their ideas, discuss how the following thinkers and artists might respond to them: Descartes (in Meditations on First Philosophy), Hume (Treatise of Human Nature), Aronofsky (Pi), Shakespeare (Hamlet), and the 19th-century French realists. Finally, what do you say in response to Wilson’s suggestion that there is little difference between you and an ant?