By Alicia Tembi (History Co-Chair), Tori Faxon (History Co-Chair), Clayton Payne (Dean of Students), and Dr. Stuart Grauer
“The aim is not so much that the pupils
should accumulate a great deal of knowledge,
but that [educators] prepare the ground for them
to acquire the right feeling for the world.”
– Rudolph Steiner
A great school cultivates more than just student knowledge. Great schools cultivate the creative, imaginative, and spiritual development of all students. Hence, arts education (like outdoor education) has a fundamental role in great education and at The Grauer School. But what is that role?
The Arts are pervasive, relevant, and alive at a great school, across the curriculum. Not only do students have access to high quality Arts electives, clubs and performances, but the Arts play a supporting role in all academic disciplines. The history discipline, the subject of this study, is of course no exception.
Primary sources are an integral part of the history curriculum at Grauer, but they are not limited to “traditional” historical documents such as diaries, letters and newspapers. History teachers at Grauer use artistic pieces as primary sources to paint a more complete picture of the past and to engage students aesthetically. Students have access to and create songs, poetry, literature, visual arts and film through each history course they take at Grauer, to provide them with a richer understanding of the cultural and political climate of the time—and to infuse their own personal development and appeal to their passions.
Please read on to learn about a few specific examples of how the arts are integrated into the history and social studies curricula at Grauer. Please note that although this list is not exhaustive, the arts are present and vibrant throughout each grade level and in every course taught.
The Arts in Middle School History
In middle school history classes at The Grauer School, the arts are integrated in order to supplement perspectives that existed at historical time periods and to provide a sensory history learning experience.
In 7th grade Global Insights (Medieval World History & Geography), there are many uses for the arts, but here are three great examples. Students read and evaluate creative expression from The Poems of Arab Andalusia, a collection from the 10th-13th centuries. Students understand the use of romantic language and imagery, and the inherent poetry of the Arabic language. When learning about the Imperial history of Chinese dynasties, students review works of pottery, watercolor painting, and sculpture. Students create their own Song dynasty-style watercolor paintings. Students create accompanying poems, after reading and learning about examples of poetry from the same era. Students are also frequently introduced to music from the culture, location, and time period they are learning about.
In 8th grade US History (Colonial Era through Reconstruction), students are exposed to song, visual art, film and written narrative. For a typical example, during our unit on slavery and the abolitionist movement, students read an excerpt from Frederick Douglass’s Narrative Life of Frederick Douglass. Students also explore spirituals, such as “Amazing Grace” and “Deep Down in my Heart.” During our unit on westward expansion, students listen to and evaluate “The President’s March” (now “Hail Columbia!”) and “Old Hickory” to understand the stark differences between the two political giants. In terms of opportunities to create art, students write and perform skits on the three parts of the Declaration of Independence. In every unit, students express their understanding in creative ways. Naturally, many of these same students are in music and art classes, where they study and perform music and art of many cultures and styles.
9th Grade World Religions
In 9th grade World Religions, students use religious art from places of worship (including many that they personally visit) to better identify central themes in both worship and belief while tracing similarities in across denominations. Students create and analyze symbolic objects, some of which change over time to mirror human advancement through history. Varying between anticipation at the outset of studies and formative evaluations at their conclusions, students are asked to create original art. The analysis of original art is then used as practice before applying the same technique to art across faith groups. The use of music in practice is likewise analyzed for each faith tradition in terms of both its functionalist utility and its effectiveness to communicate unity.
The Arts in High School History Classes
High school arts integration builds upon the foundation already laid during 7th and 8th grade. Students continue to explore history through the lens of artists and their works of art.
Throughout 10th grade World History (Modern European History), students use the music and art of the time period to enhance understanding of the eras. For instance, during our unit on the Industrial Revolution, students focus on the emergence of Realism and Romanticism in paintings. Students also act as art critics, critiquing the works from an anti- or pro-industrialization perspective, while learning about bias and slant within the media and other sources. In our New Imperialism unit, we view the film, The Man Who Would Be King, adapted from Rudyard Kipling. Through this film, students analyze British Imperialism as well as the spirit of adventure. During our units on the World Wars, students frequently examine and evaluate political cartoons, propaganda, music, and poetry. Clips from Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will allow for a glimpse into German nationalism, and the 1941 Dick Robertson song, “We Did it Before” immerses students in the emotional perspective of the US after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Even clips from the great classic Walt Disney, who created anti-nazi propaganda cartoons during the 1930s and 40s, supplement our learning process.
In 11th grade US History (Industrialization through the Vietnam Era), students predominately utilize film, song, visual art and poetry to supplement the curriculum. For example, during our unit on The Jazz Age students analyze songs like “Strange Fruit” as well as Billie Holiday’s life as a way to explore the deep south during the 1920s. Students also explore social issues like race relations, feminism, and economic inequality during the 1920s through classic film clips, which include D.W. Griffith’s infamous The Birth of a Nation, The Circus, The Jazz Singer and Pandora’s Box. Students complete an independent project where they explore a musician, photographer, film or piece of literature of their choice from the tumultuous and exciting 1960’s and 1970’s. For instance, students could evaluate the films Selma, Hidden Figures, Malcolm X or Platoon, artists Bob Dylan or Jimi Hendrix, photographer Eddie Adams, etc. This allows students to explore a medium and topic of their choosing, which in turn enhances student ownership and engagement.
Likewise, history classes serve to support historical contexts for high school literature classes, providing historical context for Shakespeare, classical arts, revolutionary writings, etc.
12th Grade Government
The study of U.S. government and civics affords students to study great architecture, great speeches and writing, protest songs and art, political cartoons, as well as the paintings, murals and photography that provide the imagery that has provided identity to our nation.
Conclusion: Arts Across the Curriculum
There is a cost in education when we fragment everything to a point where meaning is abstractedly isolated and subsequently lost. Seamless arts integration … provides approaches to problems from diverse angles, personal points of view, and multiple intelligences. (C.Y. Nordlund, Art Experiences in Waldorf Education, p. 186, 2016)
Rudolf Steiner, influenced by the aesthetic theories of Friedrich Schiller (1795/1967), believed education had a role in harmonizing the polarities of sense (or emotion) and reason within our being through meaningful experiences with art: This is a basis of balanced education. At The Grauer School, our history department creates opportunities for students that are holistic and inspire personal and group creativity and curiosity. The integration of the arts into our curricula propels this vision and allows teachers to infuse lessons with personal artistic interests and passions. In fact, the “portfolio” created by all students at the close of each quarter often provides opportunities to display personalized representations of their work.
Likewise, trips, visitations, many passionate guest speakers, field explorations, imaginative expression, hands-on experience, all play routine roles in all the social studies at Grauer, advancing our small school’s model for integrative study and offering students the time and space to take the arts personally and cultivate their sense of wonder. Said one senior class coed, “The arts have changed how I see the world.”
Grauer is an institution where students learn with their hands, heart, and heads. Teachers have creative license to shape curricula in ways that go far beyond curricular standards and tap into the imaginations of our students as classes and as individuals.
It’s true that our history classes prepare students for success at colleges of choice. It is equally true that the arts balance our students with sensory experiences that enliven the past, engage passionate study, and encourage each to look at the history and cultures of the world through their own unique lens.
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