Dear Humanities II in Action Students,
Welcome back to a new school year! Every year brings excitement of what’s to come, but today is a very special first day for me because it is the beginning of Humanities II in Action, an idea that some of us suggested 10 years ago and then 4 years ago, but it wasn’t the right time.
But today that time has come!
Let me start by saying a word about the creation of the whole “in Action” concept. In April, 1997 Mr. Coombs and I visited Ateneo, a Catholic school in Manila, that emphasized service. We asked one of the students on our visit what made his education so valuable and he said, “I love what my principal always says: dream dreams that are larger than life.” He was inspired to make a difference!
Later that day I had a chance to visit an innovative senior religion class that combined study of social problems with Catholic teachings, and which also included a week of living in a Manila slum. And that’s when the light bulb went on: I had to create a course like that at HKIS! Three years later in January, 2000 Mr. Coombs and I began teaching, “Service, Society, and the Sacred” (SSS), a senior religion elective that I still teach today. Our shamelessly idealistic slogan was, “A new kind of HKIS student for a new millennium!”
Fast forward another three years, and in 2003 I took what we had learned from SSS and created “Humanities I in Action,” which at that time had similar content to the regular Humanities I, but with the Foshan trip added in. Slowly over the years teachers and students co-created the curriculum that many of you experienced last year. Key pieces like Lord of the Flies, “Human Zoo,” the Rwandan genocide, “Shooting Dogs,” Ishmael, the Elixir Project, and the Refugee Run were all added later as we talked to students about what were the most important parts of the curriculum.
Over the last 15 years, Humanities I in Action has had a deep impact on many students. Humanities I in Action has always felt to me like the kind of course that the world needs, for it changes students at the same time that it changes the world. When I did my doctoral research, I found that the depth of change that occurred in our students through the course was greater than any other that I had found at any level of any school. Why? Because no other school that I knew of was willing to devote 300 hours of time to a course with total curricular freedom combining in-class study with out-of-class experiences to bright bilingual and bi-cultural kids who chose the course. An explosive mix!
Now, what will happen when many of those same kids get another 300 hours of time in a second “in Action” course?! We don’t know! But I believe we are on the cutting edge of going far deeper into “the class the world needs” than we were even with Humanities I in Action.
But I’ll make one guess. I expect you will emerge from this class more mature, more determined, and more grounded than you were last year with all the highs and lows that are part of the first year of the course. Calmer, steadier and more realistic about making change.
I’ll express one wish, too, that represents another new change in our curriculum. As many of you will remember from William Powers’ memorable piece that we read in the first unit last year, “Future Zarahs,” there is a fear in social conscience courses that you might burn out trying to be a cowboy or lose heart as a reluctant statistician. I hope that as all of you take SPEX 10 [Spiritual Explorations] this year along with this course, that you will find the middle way of love – for yourself as well as others – that is found at the integration point of cowboys and statisticians.
I want to wrap up this little pep talk with a profound sense of gratitude. First, I am deeply grateful to the 3 graduates who made this course possible as their Senior Project – Jonathan Chung, Nicole Lim, and Matthea Najberg. Without their vision, persistence, and sacrifice, there simply would be no Humanities II in Action. Secondly, I want to thank all of you for signing up and being a part of this exciting, ground-breaking new venture. And finally, I want to give a deep bow to the teachers – Mr. Oliver, Ms. Wheatley, Mr. Kersten, and Ms. Perez – for taking on this exciting and daunting task of creating this new course! I know they are responding to a sense of calling, and I am grateful for their commitment. But it is a burden, too, so I ask that each of you see yourselves as co-creators of this course that is charting new waters not only at HKIS, but I suspect at a global level. Please accept your responsibility to help co-create this course with your mentors!
More than 20 years ago, a student said to me, “Dream dreams that are larger than life.” I know I was inspired that day in Manila 21 years ago, and that inspiration continues to live on in this new course! I hope that each you feels inspired by the dream of making the world a better place. Finally, I look forward to seeing something new emerge at HKIS that will – to borrow a famous line from that larger-than-life social reformer Martin Luther King – bend the arc of history towards greater peace, justice, and hope.
Additional Related Information
- “Creating Humanities II in Action: Our Story” by Jonathan Chung, Nicole Lim, and Matthea Najsberg.
- “Deep Without and Deep Within: Curricular Paths for Expansion of Student Consciousness” by Mr. Schmidt