Humanities 7 is, by design, a democratic classroom. I provide the overall structure - independent writing, independent reading, and unit work, plus the skill list on which we focus - and they make all the decisions about what they write independently, what they read independently, and what the theme questions and individual (personally chosen) Focus Questions are for each unit.
I use Facebook as much as a professional networking resource as a means of keeping in touch with family and friends. I recently shared for anyone who may have been interested how proud I was of the students who recently made the GLSEN presentation in housemeeting, beginning my post by saying, “I know I say it perhaps more than I should, but students are amazing.” My mother-in-law said, “Never more than you should,” a friend added, “Never too much. Keep posting these anecdotes. It's a soothing balm to the ills of all the other junk we're seeing now.,” and Mark Springer said, “Students never cease to amaze, and we should never cease to say so.”
It wasn’t until the second year of our middle school that I threw the switch that committed me firmly to a democratic classroom path. The first year, I listened carefully to students’ suggestions and incorporated them into the course, as when I built a unit around A Midsummer Night’s Dream that included a project in scripting and filming a trailer for a movie version, but I retained the ultimate decision-making authority. The second year, I began with the same model, but as I found myself repeatedly bumping up against student resistance, I had to face the reality that I was incorporating student voice but not agency into the class. The first unit students actually designed from the ground up in Humanities 7 had the theme question, “What is music?” and was, from multiple perspectives, the most successful unit so far.
Today was our first day of classes, and the beginnings of this year's 2015-2016 Humanities 7 class coming together as a community. As always, we began with Jonathan London's wonderful jazz poem "Hip Cat" with its theme of "Do what you love to do and do it well." These kids, at least some of them, have definitely figured out already that learning is a process, something at which you might steadily improve but also something that involves challenges and roadblocks and stuckness. Equally important, they view that kind of attitude as fundamental to who our school is.