Humanities Portfolio 2012

When I first came to SLA, I was completely unaccustomed to SLA’s different teaching style. At the end of my freshman year, I had grown used to it and vastly preferred it to the methods that other schools use. However, going into History and English with Mr. Block was a new experience for me entirely. For one thing, History and English classes were more or less mixed into one class we had twice a day. It wasn’t that Mr. Block would switch up what class we were doing that day, but we would work on things that could be applied to both subjects during both classes. For example, during our prison unit, we studied the history of prisons in History, and we discussed and read books on the subject of freedom in English. In another unit, we were reading the book Things Fall Apart in English, which is a historical fiction novel about a man in an African village and how his life is changed by European colonizers and missionaries. We wrote a chapter after the final chapter of the book, to show how we think the book would have ended if there were one more chapter. During History, we studied the history of colonization.

A normal class for us began with us writing a journal entry. Mr. Block would write a prompt or question on the board, and we would answer that question, or use that prompt to write something in our journal. Almost always, these journals would relate to what we were learning in class that day. After that, we would discuss what we wrote. The discussions we had in this class were some of my favorite parts of the class. We would read our journal entry to the class, then people would respond to what we said. Often, people would disagree with one another, and we would have a small debate. Our teacher would rarely talk during these discussions, except to call on another classmate, and we would only ever have to cut the discussion short because we were running out of time, never because we ran out of something to say. After our discussion we would either read something new about the topic we are studying, or work on a project. The projects we did throughout the year were very rarely a simple paper about what we were studying. Every one of us wrote a complete play, and submitted it to Philadelphia Young Playwrights. We made podcasts, and then made a radio show with similar to This American Life. We even created a site-specific dance piece and performed it to an audience during Art in the Open. Even the papers we wrote were more complex than simply analyzing a character in a book, or responding to a question about the book. We would take a larger theme or idea, and use the book to support our opinions about that theme or idea. For example, in my Lord of the Flies thesis, I talked about how power can affect people.

During my year, I learned many things. Along with learning about the history of the French revolution, and the Industrial revolution, and other events; I also learned some things about the world in general. One of the things I learned about the world from studying history and literature is that inequality is the main cause for conflict in this world. The majority of the world’s problems can be linked to inequality. If you look at the many wars and conflicts in our history, you can see why this is true. In the French Revolution, the royalty and clergymen and had almost all the power the in country, and two thirds of the voting power, so they rest of people, about 98% of the population, could not have any control over their country. They were poor and hungry, while the King bought very expensive jewelry for his wife. Because of this, they revolted, in one of the bloodiest revolutions of all time. Another example of this is the Arab spring. The people in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, were unhappy with how their dictators could just torture and kill their people for very little reason, and how the government abused their people. They were unhappy with the way that the government and the dictators had all the power, and the people had none. They revolted, and kicked out their dictators, and while there are still problems in some of these countries; they are on their way to the democracy they fought for. It is interesting how the revolutions in the Arab spring took much less time than the French revolution. This leads to the second thing I learned about the world, which is that social change can be made more powerful through peaceful protest. The French revolution lasted about 10 years, and the revolutionaries used weapons and simply fought the King to take control of the country. In the Egyptian revolution, for the most part they simply protested and demonstrated, and there was very little fighting, except for military or government people attacking protestors. The revolution in Egypt lasted 18 days until the Mubarak stepped down. What this shows is that peaceful protest is much more effective than violent conflict. There are multiple reasons why peaceful protests are more effective. One reason is that when the government kills and attacks protestors who do not fight back, it turns the protestors into martyrs and victims. It makes their cause look better in the eyes of the world, and it makes the government of that country look evil. It also will make it so that if the protestors eventually win out, the country they inherit is not a warzone, but is more or less in the same condition as when they started. In the revolution guidebook that I made in History, I talked about what makes a revolution successful. While you can’t see exactly what I said, because the majority of this project was a presentation, you can see my bullet points about the subject. I learned many other things about the world in English and History class, but there would be too many to list here. Overall, my year in English and History was a very unique learning experience for me. The emphasis was not on grammar and spelling, or memorizing historical dates; but on our world and how we can make it better place.

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