New Classes for Spring 2014

I find it rather remarkable that a school with 363 students can offer 100 unique courses each school year, but that’s just what we do at College Prep. Students recently submitted their course selections for Spring 2014, which gave teachers of brand new courses a chance to discuss their classes during a “course shopping” period. Among the courses being offered for the very first time at College Prep are the two English seminars and two history seminars described below. Admittedly, I could read interesting course descriptions like these all day, but it shows the depth and breadth of the offerings at College Prep.

The Pursuit of Happiness (English seminar)

Many of us spend our lives chasing this thing called happiness. Slippery as a snake, it whispers in our ears and then vanishes into the brush, eluding our grasp and even our understanding. What do we see when we imagine a full life or a happy ending? From where do these dreams come? What obstacles stand in the way of our passionate, blind, or reckless pursuit? In this course, we will discuss questions like these as we read in a variety of genres. Likely fictions include Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View, Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, Lydia Millet’s How the Dead Dream; short stories by Kate Chopin and Ernest Hemingway; and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. A nonfiction unit will survey economic and psychological definitions of happiness through contemporary non-fiction works by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Debora Spar, Malcolm Gladwell, and others.

The Rest is Silence (English seminar)

Picture this scene from the Hitchcock movie, Torn Curtain:  two men in the same house who have never met are nearly instantaneously engaged in a wordless struggle that will end in death.  One of the characters is the quintessential Hitchcock hero, a regular guy caught up in unusual circumstances.  It could have been a generic scene from any number of movies, but it isn’t.  What makes this scene stand out is its audio track.  The scene takes place in silence.

The aim of this course is to explore all of the meanings behind silence.  Why is silence so powerful?  What can it convey?  Is silence more than the absence of words or sound?  We’ll use William Faulkner’s masterpiece, The Sound and the Fury, as our cornerstone text.  We’ll also read:  The Heart of Darkness (Conrad), Waiting for Godot (Beckett), The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Bauby), as well as some poetry by Emily Dickinson, Ovid, Symborska, Celan, Rumi, Borges, and short stories by Ishiguro, Gallant, Mishima, Welty, and Munro.  Our class will culminate in a viewing of a few key scenes that take place in silence.

Archaeology (History seminar)

Do you want to know how to make an arrowhead from obsidian? Did you know that you are probably part Neanderthal? Did you ever wonder how chemical isotopes can be used to determine the age of artifacts? Why did people start growing plants and raising animals? Why did some of our ancestors crawl deep inside caves 30,000 years ago to paint lifelike images of animals?  And what’s up with all those big rocks at Stonehenge? These are among the many questions that archaeologists try to answer, and so will we in this course.

Archaeology is the study of the human past through the analysis of physical remains. Archaeologists use a wide array of fieldwork, scientific techniques, critical reasoning, and theoretical perspectives in their effort to understand both the deep past of human history, and to shed new light on more recent periods, even right up to the present day. This course is designed as an introduction to the core methods, theories, and research questions of contemporary archaeology.  Through an examination of five major case studies, including human origins in East Africa, prehistoric cave art of central Europe, the Neolithic revolution at the site of Stonehenge, the growth of empire in the Andes, and the emerging importance of Native perspectives in California, we will explore the main issues and problems that research archaeologists focus on.

Technology and Society (History seminar)

Does technology drive history? Certainly, when Skynet became self-aware in the movie Terminator, machines were in the driver’s seat. We don’t have to look to science fiction to find evidence of technologies shaping society, however. The printing press undermined the primacy of priests and the Catholic Church in 15th century Europe. The tracks of the automobile are all over the American physical, economic, and political landscapes. Looking at history through the lens of technological determinism suggests that machines, once created, will play a significant role in directing society. Sometimes, as Sarah Connor can tell you, they may take us in directions we don’t want to go.

In this class we will look at how technologies shape our world, but we will also consider the intentions and values we design into our machines. After some theoretical and philosophical discussions about technological determinism, we will look at some case studies in history. Leaving history for current issues, we will do a deep dive into the subject of privacy in the digital age. Is there a constitutional right to privacy? Is that right compatible with the digital technologies on which we have come to rely? What are the trade-offs between privacy, security, and convenience? Finally, as the semester nears its end, we’ll leave the realm of constitutional law as students guide us through other intersections of technology and society. Question of identity, community, property, and interpersonal relationships are sure to come up.

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