As children enter their teenage years, they are advancing across a threshold experience on their way to selfhood. To help them cross this point confidently, the curriculum presents a rich panorama of human discovery and creativity that can spark the student’s own developing engagement with—and questioning of—the world.
The students read biographies of innovative thinkers whose thirst for knowledge came with a fearless need to question and defy authority. During the Renaissance we find limitless human capacities, as students realize the individual cannot only make a difference, but can create a new world if one’s conviction is strong enough. An age of doubt that followed the unquestioning faith of the Middle Ages, so too adolescents need to find things out for themselves. Their doubt and resistance to authority mark a giant step toward self-recreation and individual thinking.
Powers of reasoning are being exercised and judgments about the world are formed. The child is beginning to develop the capacity to stand back from their own feelings and with this distance can come perspective, and the beginnings of objectivity.
Creative writing and short story writing are introduced to bring consciousness, balance, and refinement to the adolescent’s emotional life, and in drama they explore the realm of human feeling; both of these support the expression of oneself. This, along with practicing thoughtful communication with others, can bring confidence and a sense of liberation. Meeting the adolescent’s need for critical judgement, we are more exacting, focusing on measurement in math, science, and art. We are hands on whenever possible, grounding concepts in the real world.
With emerging capacities for abstract and conceptual thinking, students are introduced to algebra; the interrelationship of chemical properties; and physical laws of refraction, reflection, heat, and electricity. Students explore how Renaissance artists used geometric principles to develop the laws of perspective, and practice the application of these laws in their own drawings. They read biographies of great figures who challenged the prevailing views in their own search for truth, freedom, and self-expression. The human physiology block focuses on health issues that relate to the growing adolescent, including digestion, respiration, circulation, and reproduction. In learning about themselves as growing individuals, the students gain an understanding of the responsibilities and choices they will face as they mature.
Thus, adolescents are challenged with increasingly rigorous academics as well as supported during this time of growth and change. It is a time of self-reflection and introspection, as they rebirth into a new stage filled with potential for new capacities as they begin to move towards adulthood.
This is a year of great change and challenge for the students, teachers, and parents. The children are really navigating two worlds: they are focused both out into their surroundings and their future, and their growing and deepening emotional and intellectual inner life. They yearn for independence and solitude, but also seek social connection. Many go through periods of emotional volatility, self-absorption, or youthful exuberance. It is paramount that we not only provide experiences that challenge students’ cognitive and creative skills and promote interest in the outer world, but nurture their budding inner lives as well.
Learning of historical figures such as Martin Luther or Galilleo who challenged the prevailing views in their own search for truth, freedom, and self-expression is inspiring. The human anatomy block focuses on health issues that relate to the growing adolescent, such as their bones, now nearing maturation, musculature, being put to extreme tests in sports and dance by energetic teens, their integumentary system, such as skin and glands and how to care for them.
In learning about themselves as growing individuals, the students gain an understanding of the responsibilities and choices they will face as they mature. Thus, students are challenged with increasingly thought provoking academics as well as supported during this time of growth and change. It is a time of self-reflection and introspection, as the adolescent rebirths into a new stage filled with potential for new capacities as they begin to move towards adulthood.
It is essential that they have appropriate outlets for the strong feelings that may be swirling inside, such that a habit of disrespect (of others or oneself) is not formed.
The central theme of the 8th grade year is the struggle for human freedom throughout history, which perfectly reflects the students own desire for emancipation and independence from familial bonds, authority, and so on. Students have now experienced a significant shift from the presentation of a subject solely from the teacher to the class, to the mutual consideration of a subject by teacher and class together. As speaking becomes more thoughtful, and listening more attentive, they begin to form judgements that can then be shared with the class and perhaps challenged; the result is a greater sense of self and place in the world, as well as compelling questions that will continue to fuel their love of learning in the years ahead.
Connections, relationships between people, cultures and events, similar patterns that hold true across contexts – these are the ideas honed through the subject matter this year, resulting in perceptive observational skills and growing critical faculties to prepare them for higher learning. History study looks at these connections through exploration of the American, French and Industrial Revolutions, and their interrelatedness.
Organic chemistry builds on previous years to include the study of sugars, starches, proteins, fats, and oils in the body and in industry. World geography and meteorology surveys landforms, ocean currents, atmosphere, climates and life zones of the entire earth with emphasis on how these affect life and culture both now and in the past. Through our curriculum, students increasingly become citizens of the world. For those native to this country, they gain a greater sense of themselves as we study early United States history, the founding of this nation and government.
The process of cultivating and developing discipline now shifts to self-discipline, taking responsibility for one’s actions and accepting the consequences of one’s behavior. As students stand firmly in adolescence, their sense of authority turns inwards, and they begin to look for direction within themselves. Here dialogue is crucial and coming to term with responsibilities within the context of the social group is essential, as it fosters a sense of social responsibility for all humanity. Ideally all have a degree of independent working that enables them to approach learning with more initiative and autonomous working skills.
Rapidly approaching the end of their childhood at age 14-15, students must prepare for the wider world that awaits them, and which is approaching them now at warp speed. Historically this is the age in which students would also be relieved of school for an apprenticeship, thus a student driven or democractic education becomes essential now, as they begin the cultivation of true individuality. Actively nurturing their interests, with an emphasis on self-determination of objectives and pathways towards those objectives, will alleviate tremendous strain on their need to rebel against the adults in their lives.
As critical faculties become sharper, accepted notions of society are subject to increasing scrutiny. Students must learn to balance an individualized way of thinking and feeling without being overwhelmed by the tides of emotion, while also being able to recognize that the state of crisis is a characteristic part of their current development.
As a counterbalance a somewhat reasonable side of the child also begins to emerge, thus presenting a possibility of reasoning with them on an increasingly adult level.
All stand before new and unknown vistas with minds ever illuminating, deep, sometimes alarmingly deep tenderness, and bodies that struggle to reach a comfortable relationship with gravity. By awakening their genuine ideals now, through self development of individuality, discernment, and moral will, when they arrive in adulthood, the question they will ask is, “How can I be useful to society?” and go on to contribute freely and responsibly as self-dependent individuals in the world, shaping the future for humanity.