Bringing Humanity to the Humanities
With a background in history and law, eighth grade humanities teacher Staci Garner reflects on what it means to be an engaged citizen in a democracy. “We have to ask ourselves at almost every age, ‘what inspires us?’ If we are engaging in self-governance, are we inspired to care for other people? What does that look like? Are we willing to do this very hard work?”
At the start of the term, Garner has each of her students pick an issue they’d like to see solved. Throughout the semester they research it and ultimately offer a solution. This involves in-depth research and asking big questions like Why is this still a problem? or Who is happy with the status quo?
Garner says that a common theme that her students confront is: everything is complex. She adds, “You have to be able to weed through the complexity to come to your own idea about something.” Over the course of the year, she enjoys seeing her students report that they read or saw something on the news that made them see the “real world connections to the curriculum or their projects.” Her students “become more engaged because they feel like they know and can talk about [these issues], both at home and out in the world. And they challenge each other in really interesting ways.”
Media literacy is a core theme in the classroom and throughout the project. Garner explains, “Kids are inundated with so much. They’ll spout a conspiracy theory or something that’s way out there, and so we take that opportunity to show them how to find a source. To ask, ‘how do we know this is accurate?’” She says these skills are harder now because of social media and our lower attention spans. She teaches her students that “it’s also about taking the time to read more than a snippet or a headline and moving on.” Garner credits Lab’s focus on play and social interaction from an early age that produces a “reservoir that students have if they’re willing to tap into it. They’ve trained themselves from the start of their education to have that attention and engagement.”
Garner smiles and says, “When I see people really think, I admire it.” She believes that our thoughts become our actions and words, and the words we use consistently become who we are. “It’s inspiring to say, ‘I have the power to change. I have the power to make a difference.’ That can be scary, but it can also create a sense of hope.” She adds that the teachers at Lab “have an investment in making sure we provide the opportunities for students to become the best of themselves so they can go into the world and the world can reflect that.”
- Teaching at Lab