In the two-year-old 8th grade American Studies curriculum, students investigate the rights, responsibilities, and privileges of American citizenship in the 21st Century. Through study of historical periods and events and literature with related themes, students are asked to ponder essential questions such as:
What is power and how is it negotiated in a civil society?
What does one gain by being a part of society and what does one give up?
How should government respond to the changing needs of a populace?
How do individuals exercise privileges, rights, and responsibilities as American citizens?
Weighty topics for 13 and 14 year olds, yes, but the first groups of students to experience the curriculum dove in head first. In fact, the project-based, interdisciplinary History and English course came about from parallel conversations about how civics education had fallen out of vogue and how to engage students more personally in their learning. These led to an aha moment for English Teacher Masami Hansen and History Teacher Jennifer Irish. “What is more personal than talking about your identity and your role in the world around you?” said Irish.
While students hone their understanding of what makes a good historian, thinker, reader, and writer, they contemplate identity and how individuals choose to―or not to―participate in society. During a research and reflection workshop students posted questions they were considering. Questions ranged from “Is it American to hold your country accountable and is that a responsibility or a right?” to “Does America not have as clear an identity as other countries because it is so young?” These are questions for a lifetime that our girls are pondering today.