Spotlight on Studies: Humanities Department

One of Vermont Academy’s strengths is in the quality of its curriculum, and the institution’s ability to tailor a highly specialized academic experience for each student. VA’s approach to teaching Humanities, for instance, exemplifies this strength. At VA, Humanities represents reading, writing, and research, with an emphasis on critical thinking, analysis, written expression, and presentation. Both literally and figuratively, students are encouraged to “speak up” in Humanities courses, says department chair Dr. Greg Martin. “We strive to give students the framework to understand their world by teaching them how to ask questions, evaluate sources of information, and make connections to other people and communities.”
Keeping in mind that the topic of Humanities can hold within it contentious topics and issues, instructors of the courses maintain an air of diplomacy, leaving space for students to formulate their own critical thoughts and words on the subject matter.

Now that the Vermont Academy community has returned from holiday break, academics are back in full swing. This month, we take a look at what students are currently studying in three Humanities classes: Contemporary Issues and US Policy, Economics, and Protest and Resistance. 

Contemporary Issues and US Policy is a year-long course “designed to view both the American Political system and how nations are addressing the large-scale challenges facing them as we near the year 2030,” reads the class syllabus, penned by Dr. Martin who teaches the class. The course begins with an overview of the American political system and explores its form, structure, and function, and includes the foundations of American political theory, types of governments, the American Government, public policy, political parties, and voting. Currently, the class is taking a diplomatic view of the differences between the United States and other countries specifically in regards to education and healthcare. The country that students will be examining over the next few classes is Germany since it is a federal system and currently has the #1 economy in Europe. Dr. Martin guides an open discussion in which students explore and research what the government-funded German education system looks like, what the path to “university” looks like in Europe versus the U.S., (pointing out the cultural disparity between the U.S. college sports industry of $14.4 billion in contrast to Europe, for instance.) The class ended with a discussion centered around a Time Magazine article titled “Postcard From Germany: Moved For School, Stayed For Insulin”, a story about a young woman with diabetes who moved to Germany for better access to affordable insulin. The assignment following this unit will be to construct the introduction section of a research paper in which students research the background of a topic, and formulate a problem statement, research questions, and a statement of proposed methodology. They will need to use a minimum of eight academic/scholarly/data-based sources. Pulling current issues together with both individualized and project-based learning will equip students to navigate college and form a foundation from which they can find success in the labor market.

Economics, led by Andrew Liss-Noda, explores the tenets of macroeconomics and how it shapes our modern world. While the course takes a traditional approach to the subject, examining supply/demand, prices, regulation, tax structures, fiscal and monetary policy, tariffs, and international trade, this course also provides a philosophical foundation for the relationship between wealth and power in Modern History. Students learn this through the works of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and John Maynard Keynes. The course also examines some case studies in the Scramble for Africa, Communist China, and American Imperialism, depending on the Term. Currently, students are exploring concepts and literature such as economics and liberty, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, Shay’s Rebellion, Hamilton v. Jefferson, Bank of the US, The Whiskey Rebellion, The Intolerable Acts, The Market Revolution, and more. In Economics, students are largely assessed on their ability to contribute meaningfully during class discussions. That was the case when they were covering the above topics. The class served as an open forum that allowed students to speak their knowledge on the topics, and learn from their fellow students when they offered insight. 

In Amanda Hodgson’s Protest and Resistance course, students learn about important American protest movements and some of the literature that fueled or inspired them. Authors of such literature range from historically notable people to modern figures. Students discuss, critically examine, and analyze the material. Currently, the students in Protest and Resistance are exploring the Women’s Rights Movement. Each student was asked to research and present a singular, specific event within the greater movement. For instance, one student presented on Ms. Magazine, an American feminist magazine co-founded in 1971 by journalist and social/political activist Gloria Steinem, another spoke on the Roe v. Wade US Supreme Court decision, while another brought awareness to the imbalanced relationship between gynecology as a practice and patients that are people of color. Once the presentations had wrapped, students were challenged to find a poem that possessed similar qualities to the event they presented on; ones with a feminist slant. One student chose The Rights of Women by Anna Laetitia Barbauld. The next movement the class will examine is the Standing Rock Reservation protests, and each student will take a more granular approach to the protest to uncover more intricate details. They will practice this for each movement covered throughout the remainder of the course. During the analysis of The Anti-Slavery movement, students will choose to profile a person who resisted slavery. A similar format will follow when students analyze the Civil Rights, LGBTQ+, and Black Lives Matter movements.

At Vermont Academy, our students are challenged while their passions are ignited. Other Humanities classes offered at VA other than the ones you see above include Foundations in History, American Literature, AP US History, Journalism, Global Magical Realism, and AP English Literature, among others. 

Stay tuned for more highlights within each of our academic departments.
Vermont Academy is a coed college preparatory boarding and day school in southern Vermont, serving grades 9-12 plus a postgraduate year.