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The Perpetual Search for Answers

Lauren Funk, Social Studies faculty

Over the course of the year, students in Western Civilization have grappled with philosophical questions large and small. They have considered, “What is the world like?” and “Do we change when we have power?” Students wondered, “Was Socrates correct; will a person who knows what good is, do good?” Or are we all just mischievous Calvin, standing beside our loyal pet tiger Hobbes, musing how time is fleeting, and pondering whether we have been happy and made the most of each moment? 

While the primary perspective of investigation in this foundational social studies course is historical, students were tasked with looking closely at literature, art, philosophy, politics, economics, and religions; not only as topics but as lenses to view the ancient world. We have learned about greatness from leaders like Pericles and Julius Caesar, witnessed the creation of stunning architecture like the Parthenon and the Colosseum, and seen religion shift from the pantheons that guided polytheistic practices of ancient Greece and Rome to the monotheism of Christianity that spread throughout Europe and beyond.

Also though, the course sought to center the dichotomy between the sometimes extraordinary heroism and innovations of the ancient world, with the profoundly unjust systems, policies, and practices often at the center of life in Ancient Greece and Rome. Through it all, we have been guided by broad (and challenging) questions such as what it means to be “western,” the inevitability of change, and how power functions in civilizations. 

During the final weeks of the school year, students in Western Civilization are hard at work designing “museum exhibitions” about the civilizations of the ancient Greeks, the ancient Romans, and Medieval Europe. Their curated collections of primary source artifacts seek to respond to overarching questions of their choosing, connected to one of three themes: the western mind, individuals and institutions, or power, oppression, and resistance. In creating these exhibitions, students endeavor not just to present and explain but to interpret their paintings, sculptures, manuscripts, and other objects from an analytical stance. They are conducting research, developing and supporting compelling arguments, and teaching their peers about their learning. This culminating project allows for student autonomy and agency and highlights the various perspectives and experiences students have brought to this work throughout the year. For example, one student selected a statue of a Roman emperor and a Medieval sword and scabbard in considering the construct of power. Another student focused on the concept of change over time, illustrating their claims with artifacts such as pottery depicting women's roles in ancient Greece and a passage from Stoic philosopher and emperor Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations. During finals week, projects will be shared as we wrap up a year of significant learning, thinking, and growth in our understanding of western civilizations and their significance today.

We may not have definitive answers to “What is the world like?” or “Will a person who knows what good is, do good?” but watching students in action this year, I would argue that perhaps one could respond, “Sometimes, pretty amazing” and “Yes, Dana students prove this every day.”