Social Studies/History

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Human Crossroads

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Full year


Human Crossroads: Confronting Global Challenges through Time, Identity and Place

Human Crossroads asks students to respond to some of the world's greatest challenges using an interdisciplinary approach that draws from the intersection of geography, history, anthropology and sociology.  The curriculum is comprised of units dedicated to central thematic questions ranging from the meaning of human identity to the value of borders, the possibility of religious pluralism and vexing problems of global inequities.  Each unit starts by asking, "what is where, why there, why care?" using maps.  Course material and projects include current events, academic texts, online resources and data visualizations.  Students learn to read actively, analyze maps, interpret data, write thesis-driven essays and synthesize information, with according skill-based assessments.  This class is not only intended to develop academic skills, but to foster curiosity, self-reflection, global citizenship and a renewed commitment to the pursuit of truth, love and justice in the world.


Post-Colonial Africa

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Despite having 54 different countries and being the world's second-most populous continent, Africa is often regarded from the outside as a single, homogeneous place. And that place, of course, is most commonly associated with tragedy, devastation, and corruption. What is the real story? Are things as bleak as they seem? How did we get to this point? This course will approach sub-Saharan Africa from the ground level, blending historical and travel writing in order to shake the simplistic stereotypes, identify meaningful themes, and also understand the many internal differences that characterize the continent. Special attention will be devoted to South Africa, Ghana, Rwanda, and Sudan, among others.

Transitional Justice

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How can a country, scarred by genocide, ever recover and regain a sense of normalcy? How can two rival factions, each guilty of committing horrible atrocities against the other, ever learn to live together in peace again? How can victims of torture rebuild their internal worlds while their external circumstances remain equally fractured? This course studies the field of transitional justice, through which countries and the international community endeavor to move from chaos to stability, to punish the guilty, to document the historical truth, and to help the victims heal. Subjects include the Holocaust and the experience of surviving German Jews after the war, apartheid-era South Africa and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the Argentine military dictatorship and the struggle to find children kidnapped from the government's victims. People interested in law, history, international relations, human rights, and current events will be interested in this class.

Revolution in the Middle East

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Students will engage the seismic shifts in the recent history of the “greater Middle East," from Morocco to Pakistan. The course begins with a brief history of the rise, development, and expansion of Islam, the later ascendancy of Western imperialism in the region, and the emergence of both recently overthrown and (as of today) surviving regimes and philosophies. Serious attention will be given to the variations between and within different states and regions, as students grapple with essential questions: Why do uprisings begin, succeed, or fail, and what will be the nature of the new regimes? Student research and presentations will be a driving force in the class, which will adapt to the events as they are unfolding. This course is recommended, but not required, for students enrolled in Environmental Science and/or Politics.

The Constitution in American Life and Society

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This course is an investigation of the U.S. Constitution as a document active in American lives past and present. By examining constitutional debates, judicial decisions, and through a close reading of the Constitution itself, students will consider issues from the balance of power between the branches of government, to the right to declare wars, and civil rights. We will study historical issues in depth, such as the background to and creation of the Constitution, its early history, and key changes including the ratification of the Bill of Rights and the controversy over states’ rights. Students will also research, debate, and write essays on a number of current constitutional debates, including cases now and soon to be before the Supreme Court such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and government surveillance programs.

History of Modern China

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Last year, China passed Japan to become the world's second-biggest economy. Most analysts anticipate that it will surpass the United States as well, perhaps as soon as 2020. Why has China become such a force? And what does this mean for the United States? This course examines China from multiple angles, including the tension between communism and capitalism, democracy and authoritarianism, and traditional culture and globalization, while also exploring critical issues like human rights and environmental degradation. In addition, we will look to the past to better understand China's current trajectory, including European imperialism and the rise and rule of Mao Zedong.

Globalization: Debates and Controversies

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This course examines the definitions of and debates about globalization. Students will consider how globalization has come about and will examine the interlocking political, economic, and social forces that increasingly bind all people together. Students will become familiar with institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and explore the arguments for and against their policies. Through examination of recent scholarly and popular work, we will engage in the complex and passionate debates concerning globalization, from the “Battle in Seattle” to the Slow Food movement. Additionally, students will examine how the processes of globalization affect everyday life for both Americans and people in developing nations, considering the extent to which it introduces “diversity” and new choices or erodes traditional cultures. Finally, students will sample recent works of literature and music deemed to represent the coming wave of our new global culture.

Urban Studies

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Portland is “The City that Works,” but what does that actually mean?  How does it work?  Who does the work?  For whom do they work?  Students in this course will explore the answers in the context of urban planning, sustainability, leadership and civic engagement. This class emphasizes the examination of critical urban issues via experiential and service learning, supported by focused engagement with key texts.  It is a hands-on, seminar-style course designed for students to work together to engage the community and help address our region’s urban issues through the completion of a plan for a client.

Environmental Politics

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This course is taught in conjunction with the Environmental Science class offered through the science department. We will focus on educating students to become discerning and actively engaged citizens regarding a range of environmental dilemmas. By examining the foundational science of energy, water, air, and soil processes, students will acquire key building blocks from which to explore various environmental policies. While traditional methods, such as labs, essays, and discussions will be essential to the learning process, the course will include off-campus site visits, guest lectures, and individual investigations. Recommended co-enrollment: Environmental Science (all year); Revolution in the Middle East (spring semester).

History 7: World Cultures

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World Cultures continues the study of civilizations begun in sixth grade.  Students learn to think critically about historical eras, analyze primary sources for accuracy and bias, define problems, and relate historical events to the modern world.  Students acquire the patterns needed to read actively for both the main idea and increase their vocabulary.  Students focus on writing as a process. Students concentrate on the process of developing their essays through such stages as pre-writing, outlining, and first and second drafts. Students extend the depth and detail of their writing and practice writing introductory paragraphs, topic sentences, and strong conclusions.  Beginning the year in a large group, they learn the skills necessary to complete projects independently, including planning, time management, outlining, and research.  Research involves interviewing, reading for specific information, and using both print and electronic research.  In the course of the year, students practice speaking skills including, exchanging ideas; debating, and honoring ideas of others. Units include geography and the human experience with an emphasis on current world geography; Middle Ages in England, China, Middle East, North Africa, and Japan with an emphasis on mapping of culture, impact of religion, and development of political systems; and revolutions in science, Enlightenment, America, France, and Estonia.  Spring brings planning a trip to a country in the Eastern Hemisphere with an emphasis on studying the culture of a country through travel. The final unit of study involves the history of Mt. St Helens.