Uncovering Connections through the Humanities

During my sophomore year of high school, my English teacher assigned Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye while we studied the Great Depression in History class. The Bluest Eye is Toni Morrison’s first novel which encourages readers to examine identity and race during the Depression. While my teachers didn’t explicitly explain that this was an attempt at interdisciplinary studies, I recall making such connections with my friends. I remember having lively conversations in both classes because I, and many of my peers, discussed what we were learning with our families, resulting in a diverse, multigenerational perspective.
This was one of the first times in which the class discussion wasn’t only focused on the teacher’s expectations; we were looking at history and Morrison’s text beyond the classroom. We began to understand that each subject was connected and that our thoughts mattered. We were encouraged to think critically and not only expound on the ideas brought up in class, but also on what was going on outside of our classroom. My classmates and I were energized and inspired to question and examine our world. I was always an enthusiastic math student, but my English and history teachers sparked an interest in me to think deeper, question everything, and to examine the human experience. I started to become more creative with my problem-solving ideas. I began looking at solving math problems in a similar way as I did writing papers, reminding myself that the details mattered. I also was inspired to learn more math history and would often inform my family about what I was learning. I believe this is the intention of the humanities! Students are inspired to see connections between the disciplines and the human experience, resulting in the desire to share their ideas.

The study of humanities encompasses many disciplines, including World Languages, English, and History. It offers students the opportunity to connect what they are learning in various subjects. Inevitably students will become critical thinkers when allowed to see that their courses aren’t silos but have true connections with each other as well as to the world around them. As a new member of this community, I decided to ask the chairs of each of these departments questions to gain a better understanding of how the humanities are viewed at Ellis. The passion that our chairs have for these disciplines made me wish I could take their courses:

"An Ellis English education encourages students to see literature as it exists within the world: not as an isolated artifact, but as part of a complex network of beliefs, influences, and expressions of culture. I am inspired by watching students apply a critical lens to not only literature from various nations and eras, but also to the ads, journalism, films, and other media that infuse their everyday lives. Each course in the Upper School invites such analysis, calling on students to interrogate an author’s purpose, privilege, and perspective as they cultivate their critical awareness of the way language and narrative shape cultural conventions. To be able to watch students come to recognize that critical analysis and "resistant” reading should be everyday practice rather than an elite enterprise justifies all the work our teachers put into their lessons, assessments, and individual support of each student-scholar.”
- Dr. Anna Redcay, English Department Chair

"The World Languages Department has two goals for our students: to use the language within and beyond the classroom, and to interact and collaborate competently in their community and in a globalized world. We hope that our students not only develop a love for languages, but also a willingness to pursue further study (even for languages that we don't offer at Ellis). A third of our department are heritage/native speakers and our commitment to current methods, technology, and interaction with authentic materials sets us apart from other programs. I've always said that there is NO education like the one you get when you travel outside of your own zone—and language is THE key to making that experience everything that it can be.”
- Jack Gaddess, World Languages Department Chair

"We want our students to confidently pose compelling questions about the past, to find and analyze credible sources of information, and to weigh the usefulness of those sources. As students mature in this discipline they will have the ability to think critically and independently, as well as to express themselves well, both verbally and in writing. All these skills are transferable–they will need them in school, in college, and beyond. I think the younger generation really is hungry for a history that moves beyond nostalgia, a history that includes the truths of our shared experiences. That drives me.”
- Dr. Susan Corbesero, History Department Chair

Humanities provides context for the world, which is what my tenth grade English and history teachers taught me and what our humanities program aspires to do for students at Ellis.