The ninth grade Humanities class that I teach, entitled ALIVE, was created as a mandatory course for all incoming high schoolers at Metropolitan Business Academy. Its focus is not explicitly an academic one, though it builds upon English and Social Studies skills and standards, as well as 21
Century Competencies. More importantly, though, the course seeks to support ninth graders in building community, analyzing topics perhaps unaddressed in students’ prior schooling experiences, and finally, gaining a critical understanding of themselves and their peers in the context of the greater society. More specifically, the curriculum aims to support students in understanding and examining various aspects of identity, social (in)justice issues, and the ways in which movements, particularly those in the US, have effected change both historically and in the present. While much of the course centers on students’ lived experiences, my role as their teacher is to provide a framework that connects their embodied realities to larger social and historical contexts on community, citywide, and national scales.
The course’s yearlong curriculum is anchored in a unit on identity during which we analyze the ways that the following factors inform who we are, what we do, and how society treats us: lived experience, age, family, neighborhood, ability and disability, class, religion, race and ethnicity, sex and gender, and sexuality. While each of these identity factors exists within a historical framework, this curriculum focuses on the history of race in the United States. The rationale behind this choice is that race is a subject about which students are constantly engaging, yet often in ways that are misinformed and devoid of historical grounding. Offering the concrete facts and complex histories that created the social construction of race is meant to support students in understanding this abstract concept and its inextricable connection to racism.