The course is an integrated approach to the humanities, with the understanding that the various fields of the humanities—literature, history, philosophy—while distinct disciplines, ultimately are not separate. They form a cohesive whole in understanding humanity. The heart of the program is the seminar.
The seminar is a guided discussion—neither a polite conversation nor a lecture on another’s point of view. Students defend their own points of view. By discussing, students learn to read carefully, think analytically, keep to the topic, uncover meaning, grow in intellectual humility, and the ability to listen to and understand. This is often not easy for students and it results in the refining of the students’ thought as they articulate ideas, receive feedback, and respond in the ongoing conversation.
During the ninth and tenth grades, students learn the narrative of American and Western European history, with a focus on the development of liberal democracy and the ideas from which it springs. Thus, it also serves as an introduction to the arena of political theory, through reading original works of the United States founding fathers and other political theorists of the times. The literature studied during these years parallels the historical time periods and the geographic regions studied. However, they are not simply meant to be a historical supplement, but are studied as great literary works. At this level, the seminar teacher is a very active part of the discussion, forming them in the method of learning in the seminar setting. In the eleventh and twelfth grades, the historical narrative moves to the background and the courses focus on the ideas and issues which are articulated in the readings. The skills necessary for careful reading, effective analytical writing and discussion have been developed through the work of the previous four years, and they are now employed as the means of learning in these last two years of the program. The students begin to deal seriously with questions of philosophy, theology and political theory through reading the writings of the great thinkers of the Western world.
As the students read these texts in the eleventh and twelfth grades, their skills of analysis are further sharpened. They learn to comprehend and analyze dense, complicated material. In their writing, students are able to begin to focus on the refinement of their writing style while continuing to execute clear, substantial analysis of the texts. Even more, however, the students learn to grapple with the same ideas on which the great thinkers have deliberated. In the process, they attempt to understand themselves, the world around them, and the God who made it all.
At this level, the seminar teachers begin to be a less active part of the discussion, as the students step forward to take leadership of the conversation. Their own inquiry and analytical abilities drive the discussion, and the teacher is able to act as more of a moderator and occasional guide.
Humane Letters Seminar Reading List:
Ninth grade - Documents in American History; The Declaration of Independence; The U. S. Constitution; The Federalist Papers (selections); Selections from the writings of Thomas Jefferson; Selections from the Lincoln-Douglas debates; Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage; Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird; Henry David Thoreau, Walden, Civil Disobedience; Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn; Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave; Willa Cather, My Antonia; Upton Sinclair, The Jungle; Ernest Hemmingway, The Old Man and the Sea; Short stories of Stephen Crane, Willa Cather, Flannery O’Connor; Thornton Wilder, Our Town; American poetry.
Tenth grade - Documents in European history; Robert Bolt, A Man for All Seasons; Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (selections), John Locke, Second Treatise on Government (Selections); Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Essay on the Origin of Inequality; Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities; Edmund Burke, Reflections on the French Revolution (selections); Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice; Engels' Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (Selections); Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto; Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment; George Orwell, Animal Farm; British and European poetry.
Eleventh grade - Homer, Iliad, Odyssey; Aeschylus, The Oresteia; Sophocles, Theban Plays; Plato, Gorgias, Apology, Crito, Meno or Phaedo, Republic; Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics; Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian Wars; Athanasius, On the Incarnation; Augustine, The Confessions.
Twelfth grade - Augustine, The Spirit and the Letter; Thomas Aquinas, Treatise on Law; Martin Luther, Letter to the Galatians; Dante, Inferno; Montaigne, In Defense of Raymond Sebond; Descartes, Meditations; William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Hamlet; Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Of the Social Contract; John Locke, Second Treatise on Government; Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (selections); Hegel, Reason in History; Mill, On Liberty; Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov; Flannery O’Connor, Parker’s Back; James Agee, A Death in the Family; Raymond Carver, A Small Good Thing; Ethan Canin, The Palace Thief; contemporary American poetry.