Humanities at SVGS


Juniors have finished their semester strongly by examining the complexities of ethics and morality through writers as diverse and complex as the issues they confront.  Students looked at the abhorrence of slavery and injustice through the perspective of Frederick Douglass’s experience (an excerpt from his memoir) and found his tenacity and cleverness admirable in the face of such horrible circumstances.  Friedrich Nietzsche posed a new-found challenge for students who grappled with his bold assertions and condemnations of institutions we commonly take solace in.  And Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” provided much-needed comfort in the strength and courage of a great humanitarian.  Semester exams required students to choose one of these writers and to trace their concerns in our society today—exam opportunities, then, allowed students not only to articulate their understanding of issues but to apply that understanding using relevant digital sources culminating in an essay and works cited.

Juniors have just completed their first theorist cycle:  essays on education theory and their own education theory essay.  Students spent time collaboratively processing the theories of Tzu, Dewey, Montessori, and Kozol, then students assembled their own approach to effective education based on what they felt were essential components.  Using the writing process, students were able to provide peer feedback, revise and reconsider, then conference with Ms. Jeffrey with an eye to improving essays in both content and format.  Now the class is looking at language theory and considering the complexities of acquisition, code switching, and identity.  Preparation for language essays has begun as students choose to support theorists such as Langer, Baldwin, Chomsky, and McWhorter.


Seniors examined the predicament/opportunity of Edna Pontellier in Chopin’s novel The Awakening, and explored, individually, whether her choice at the end of the novel reveals an embrace of freedom or hopelessness.  Essays required students to argue for one interpretation or the other and to supply feedback from literary critics to support that stand.  Exam preparation required students to create a digital portfolio using Google sites and to build their site around individually-created semester impressions that link the semester’s three works together.  Artifacts included in this portfolio (media files, online articles, TED talks, etc.) reveal the students’ understanding of themes  found in the works but also present in our world today.  Included with digital content is the student essay that serves as a creative and intellectual tour through the portfolio.

Seniors have recently wrapped up their study of the great epic Beowulf.  After analyzing self-selected passages for their test, students crafted essay topics that allowed them to apply Anglo-Saxon cultural concerns to contemporary society.  Topics ranged from the problematic question of soldiers who desert (a hot topic of discussion during our reading) to the appeal of the military as a source of propaganda.  Currently, students are wrapping up Shelley’s Frankenstein and will compose their “big idea” list soon as a source for the test.  Next on the literary horizon is Chopin’s The Awakening—a deep consideration of one woman’s resistance to Victorian constraints.


As part of our unit on aesthetic philosophy, we explored Friederich Nietzche’s idea of the Apollonian versus the Dionysian; the students each created two masks to show these contrasting modes of aesthetic expression.  Topics students explore are  – What is “Art” and how do we value it?, aesthetic philosophy, artistic analysis, ancient art, Greek art, architecture, music & philosophy, music analysis, Judeo-Christian heritage in Western Culture , metaphysics: philosophy of religion, the Medieval culture -Dark Ages; Charlemagne; rapid spread of Western/Christian culture, growth of the Humanities art, sculpture, music & architecture, the  Italian Renaissance – historical background and  Renaissance Philosophy & Humanism.


Students work to understand about human nature – how people’s brain works and how that supports their mind.  This course introduces students to the scientific study of how we feel and act and to the fundamental knowledge of major concepts, theory, history, current trends in understanding human behavior and mental processes.  Students will learn about the methods psychologists use to find the answers to questions about brain function and its relationship to behavior, perception, motivation, cognition, learning, personality, social and mental health. Students will learn to think critically about psychological evidence, to evaluate its validity and to apply its relevance to important issues in their own life. Students will develop insight into their own and others’ behavior and mental processes and apply effective strategies for self-management and self-improvement.

Topics covered include, history of psychology, biology of behavior, consciousness and the two-track mind,human development, gender & sexuality, sensation and perception, learning, memory, thinking, language and intelligence, motivation & emotion, stress, social psychology, and therapy.