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Humanities Courses

Why Take a Humanities Course?

The humanities are vital—not just if you’re an aspiring lawyer or novelist or college professor, but if you want to excel in virtually any field or endeavor. Students in CTY humanities courses gain knowledge about topics ranging from philosophy and political science, to history, psychology, and writing. They also master essential skills: how to solve problems, think critically, be creative, and effectively communicate ideas. These are valued talents that are in high demand and are increasingly hard to find.

What do humanities students do as they develop these skills at CTY? They debate the ethics of genetic engineering and argue the limits and possibilities of artificial intelligence. They evaluate case studies on such topics as Phineas Gage’s accident and its impact on impulse control or the influence of Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael on modern society. They simulate archeological digs of King Tutankhamen’s tomb and replay history through mock trials of Texas v. Johnson.

When students are introduced to competing ideas in a CTY humanities classroom, they craft their own connections and conclusions. By honing their rhetorical skills, they become adept at transmitting their knowledge and point of view. In learning how to critically examine a text, they perfect how to evaluate new opinions, information, and ideas.

The humanities at CTY, with their emphasis on analytical thought, creative problem-solving, and effective communication, prepare students for success—not only in college, but in careers ranging from engineering and scientific research to the arts, business, education, medicine, politics, technology, and more.

Humanities courses require a minimum verbal score on the SCAT. Learn more about Eligibility.

For second and third graders, offered in the day program:

For third and fourth graders, offered in the day program only:

For fifth and sixth graders:

Interdisciplinary course for second and third graders: CTY offers "Cloudy With a Chance of Science" to all second and third graders who are eligible for summer programs. Learn more about the "Cloudy With a Chance of Science" class.

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Humanities Course Descriptions and Syllabi

Journeys and Explorations

From Shoshone interpreter Sacagawea's pivotal role in the Lewis and Clark expedition to Ibn Battuta's 30-year journey through Africa, Asia, and Europe, people have always been compelled to travel and explore. Such extensive journeys seldom leave travelers or the places they visit unchanged. Encounters with other places and people alter not only how we view the world around us, but also how we view ourselves.

In this course, students follow famous explorers and examine the impact of their expeditions. For example, they may sail with Marco Polo in search of silk and spices, follow the Ming dynasty admiral Zheng He on his military expeditions to Africa and India, or consider the response of Aztec leader Montezuma to the invasion led by Hernán Cortés.

Inspired by what they learn, students plan and conduct their own virtual explorations, which entail researching a specific region's culture, politics, history, and environment. One student might choose to visit Lake Tanganyika and its chimpanzees with Jane Goodall, while another might explore the Amazon River Basin aboard the Calypso with Jacques Cousteau. Through their explorations, students develop the skills necessary to appreciate the diversity and commonalities of places and people around the world.

Sample texts: Encounter, Yolen; The Incredible Journey of Lewis and Clark, Blumberg; Traveling Man: The Journey of Ibn Battuta, 1325-1354, Rumford; an atlas chosen by the instructor.

Students must have completed grades: 2 or 3

Session 1: New York
Session 2: New York

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The Ancient World

During the period from 2000 BCE to 300 CE, cultures with lasting impact flourished all around the world. In this course, students learn about daily life, social structures, governments, economies, and religions across the ancient world and consider how traces of these civilizations live on today. In addition to reading historical accounts of ancient societies, students explore myths, legends, and arts. For instance, students may examine the images on Greek urns to reconstruct a typical meal-both its food and the rituals surrounding it. By examining which mummified animals have been found in pharaohs' tombs, students may discern Egyptians' beliefs about the world and the afterlife. Similarly, they may analyze the meaning of dragon images on the garments of Chinese emperors and generals, or consider how Indian oral traditions reflected in the 2,000-year-old epic poem Ramayana shaped the politics, religion, and art of modern South Asia.

In addition to group work, students complete individual research on topics of their choosing, and field trips to museums complement classroom work by contextualizing course knowledge with material culture. They acquire critical-thinking and research skills in addition to developing an appreciation for the richness and diversity of ancient cultures.

Sample texts: Ancient Rome, Connolly; The Ancient Greeks, Rees; India: Exploring Ancient Civilizations, Barr; Eyewitness: Ancient China, Cotterell; The Kingfisher Book of the Ancient World, Martell; City, Macauley; Ancient Egypt, Hart.

Field Trip Fee: $70

Students must have completed grades: 3 or 4

Session 1: Los Angeles (day site)
Session 2: Alexandria, New York, Sandy Spring

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Big Questions

What is justice? What is beauty? What is the right thing to do? What is real? How can I be sure of what I know? In this philosophy class, students cultivate and refine critical thinking by considering fundamental questions such as these. While the questions in the course pique students' intellectual curiosity, the emphasis is not on the answers, but on the process of rigorously addressing these puzzling issues.

Students explore the methods philosophers use to develop and assess potential solutions. They learn to actively listen to other students, evaluate arguments, formulate their own arguments in a clear manner, and defend their conclusions against objections. Through discussions, activities, readings, and short essays, students develop the analytical-reasoning skills needed to ask challenging questions and be better thinkers across disciplines.

Sample texts: Philosophy for Kids: 40 Fun Questions that Help You Wonder about Everything!, White; What If…: Collected Thought Experiments in Philosophy, Tittle.

Students must have completed grades: 5 or 6

Session 1: Collegeville
Session 2: Collegeville, Los Angeles (residential site), Sandy Spring

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Model United Nations and Advanced Geography

Countries addressing a major global challenge like climate change, weapons proliferation, or the transnational spread of a deadly virus like Ebola often present their concerns to the United Nations to facilitate intergovernmental cooperation. How this agency achieves its goals is often controversial; nevertheless, understanding the U.N.’s mission and functions remains essential to the study of international relations.

In this course, students learn how the U.N. addresses global concerns. They study the structure and processes of this multilateral institution through readings, discussions, research, and short lectures. They examine how physical, economic, cultural, and political geographies influence and inform policymaking. Concurrently, students hone their writing, speaking, and critical-thinking skills while gaining a working knowledge of international relations theory and history.

Students practice these skills in model United Nations simulations. Each student assumes the role of ambassador for a particular country and performs research to determine where this state would stand on issues before the U.N. Students draft position papers and refine resolutions and present them to a mock meeting of the General Assembly, Security Council, or other U.N. entity. As novice diplomats learning the art of compromise, students negotiate resolutions, learn parliamentary procedure, and build coalitions to represent their country’s best interests while tackling issues multilaterally.

Sample texts: The Winning Delegate, Turunç; An Insider’s Guide to the U.N., Fasulo; The Penguin State of the World Atlas, Smith; a major newspaper.

Students must have completed grades: 5 or 6

Session 1: Collegeville, Los Angeles (residential site), Baltimore, La Jolla, Los Angeles (day site), New York, Portola Valley
Session 2: Bristol, Collegeville, San Rafael, Alexandria, New York

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