Courses are designed to help students become more adept, informed consumers of all aspects of culture and media, and to become better assessors of the validity of arguments and opinions in everything from scientific journals to online documentaries. Instructors emphasize the rigorous evaluation of information in a variety of texts and formats, as well as the honing of one’s rhetorical skills in order to communicate effectively with any audience.
In every course, students develop their critical thinking, analytical writing, and problem-solving abilities, skills necessary not only for succeeding in a rigorous college or professional environment but also for being an engaged citizen who can empathize with others inhabiting diverse perspectives and who can effectively negotiate an ever complex, changing world.
Students in these courses at CTY will engage in frank discussions and analyses of contemporary issues and will use materials typical of college courses. For example, students may view an R-rated film or engage topics of a politically or socially sensitive or controversial nature.
The following courses are offered:
From the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama to Stanley Milgram’s psychology lab at Yale, human subject research has often been conducted using horrifying methods without the participants’ informed consent. This course examines the troubling history of human subject research in social context, and the harmful, lasting sociological implications of the exploitation of vulnerable populations for the “greater good.” Students grapple with key ethical concepts in research, including questions of consent, the role of privacy and confidentiality, and evaluating the potential benefits of research against harm that may come to the participants. Through multiple disciplines and case studies, they analyze some of the most challenging ethical issues that surround human subject research today, including under what circumstances, if any, may researchers deceive participants or justify harming them because of potential benefits.
Collectively, humanity’s view of what constitutes psychological normalcy—and how to regain or maintain it—has never been static. Despite our growing scientific knowledge about brain chemistry and anatomy, even today it remains unclear what “insanity” actually entails. This course explores psychopathology through the lenses of history, sociology, philosophy, and the law. Beyond simply learning about the contents of the DSM-5, students will question the very premise of “abnormal” psychology, coming to understand it for the construct it is.
At its most potent, humor—satire in particular—is an indispensable tool for revealing uncomfortable truths and exposing hypocrisy. In doing so, it usually manages to provoke, shock, spark debate, and, yes, offend. In this course, students explore the role satire and comedy have played in American cultural and political debates via newspaper cartoons, editorials, essays, TV shows, and stand-up routines. Humorists under consideration include Mark Twain, Lenny Bruce, Don Rickles, Richard Pryor, Norman Lear, Joan Rivers, Gary Trudeau, and Samantha Bee.
From birth, we are exposed to cultural messages about gender: to keep us warm, we are wrapped in blue or pink blankets; to entertain us, we are given action figures or dolls; to socialize us, we are exposed to roughhousing or playacting. These approaches to gender perpetuate a particular status quo, one that works against a vast spectrum of lived experiences and possibilities. In this course, students use gender and feminist theories and critical cultural studies to identify and challenge contemporary understandings of gender. As they examine gendered depictions in literature, art, advertising, film, and social media, students become analytical synthesizers of information, casting a critical eye toward coded representations as they conceptualize the fluidity of gender.
On March 21, 1844, in an event known as The Great Disappointment, the world was not destroyed and the Millerites joined a long Western tradition of unrealized doomsday prophesies. This course examines the history and culture of apocalyptic thought in religion, the arts, philosophy, and science. In addition to investigating religious movements that have sprung up in the wake of the apocalyptic preaching of The Book of Revelation, students delve into previous catastrophic events, real and imagined, such as the Black Death and the 2012 Phenomenon, and examine our current concerns with global warming, pandemics, and nuclear proliferation. Students critically consider the apocalypse in pop culture, using examples like H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, and Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead to get to the root of why apocalyptic imagery maintains such a powerful grip on our imaginations.
As soon as Pilgrims landed in Plymouth in 1620, conspiracy theories, myths, and urban legends shrouded the New World. In the early 1690s, witches caused epileptic fits and crop failure in Salem, Massachusetts, and in the presidential election of 1800, Thomas Jefferson’s opponents characterized him as member of the Illuminati, a secret society determined to overthrow the world’s governments in order to consolidate power among a select elite. In this course, students analyze how and why conspiracy theories, myths, and urban legends exert such a hold upon the American imagination even though such beliefs cannot be substantiated by historical or scientific inquiry, ignore established evidence to the contrary, and deny the general consensus. By examining cultural phenomena such as Bigfoot, Area 51, Skull and Bones, the Kennedy assassination, Sandy Hook deniers, and Slender Man, students develop a deep understanding of the social and psychological forces at work underneath our culture’s most enduring anxieties.