The Core: Our Uncommon Approach
The Core Humanities Sequence (colloquially, “The Core”) is a series of classes for the 7th through 10th grades that seeks to integrate the study of language, literature, and history. Indeed, the reintegration of knowledge is one of the most pressing educational needs of our time. Students benefit from an approach to reality that is open to transcendence, to the good, the true, and the beautiful. They are enriched and prepared for a life of prudence, defined as the “perfected ability to make decisions in accordance with reality.”
Each Core Class is a double period taught by the same teacher. Our sequence of classes covers the following materials during the grades listed below:
- 7th Grade: Grammar, Literature, Latin
- 8th Grade: English and History (Ancient)
- 9th Grade: English and History (Western History from Cicero to Napoleon)
- 10th Grade: English and History (American)
During the ninth grade, the Freshman Core teacher also serves as mentor for each of the 15-17 individuals in his class.
The Heights Core Humanities Sequence offers unity of knowledge and context, communicating an integrated vision of man, his language, and his history.
Facility with language is foundational for properly engaging with history and literature. The seventh grade Core’s combination of grammar, writing, literature, and Latin sets the stage for a fruitful combined study of history and literature. The boys are not yet ready for the intense historical inquiry with primary sources and literature side-by-side. Rather, we prepare them for this with a final, in-depth, and analytical study of their mother Tongue right next to Latin, to complement each other in a unified vision of man’s ability to communicate.
This intense grammatical study allows us to teach writing in an atomic way, beginning at the sentence and building through the paragraph. Our boys can analyze their sentences at the grammatical and logical level, improving their ability to weave tales, connect ideas, and construct arguments. This development in their writing allows them to do two specific things at the sentence level that will prepare them for the study of history and literature together. The first is to ask good questions, and the second is to answer them with a succinct thesis.
Once the boys can produce a thesis, they must rally support for their arguments. The seventh grade Core is the last to teach the good books: The Two Towers, Kidnapped, or The Hound of the Baskervilles give the boys an easier means of finding support for their thesis in the text itself. This textual evidence becomes even more important when we introduce some Great Books in eighth grade.
History and literature ultimately study the same thing — the human condition. History does so by engaging in “inquiry,” the term Herodotus first used for his work exploring the Persian Wars. At The Heights, we take this to mean the asking of great questions and the seeking of cogent answers. Literature, the study of fiction, affords a similar exploration to our boys, but one that allows us to see much more than just the historical facts.
The eighth grade humanities course introduces our students to a deeper understanding of history by using both primary and secondary sources. Studying the art, literature, architecture, and language of the periods under our purview complements and transcends the limitations of only using textbooks, which at times tend to oversimplify, and into the realities that were the civilizations, wars, and men that we will learn both to emulate and avoid. Our students will ask questions such as “Why do we call Alexander or Pompey “Great”?” “Were they?” “Why did neither Caesar nor Cicero earn the same appellation?” “What do a man’s habits, decisions, and actions show us about great citizenship or leadership?”
Primary sources and rich narrative supplements help us address these questions and others. We want to spark inquiry into ideas that will last the boys for the rest of their lives, not just until they have finished the test.
With regard to literature, the eighth grade class reads The Iliad and To Kill a Mockingbird; they read their first Shakespeare play, Julius Caesar, and we close The Lord of the Rings trilogy with The Return of the King. Along with this reading, the eighth grade Core focuses on the rhetorical arts that are closely associated with deep reading: writing and speaking. The essays will grow larger and will follow the classical model, preparing them not only for high school writing but also for the kind of writing that solves problems, builds coalitions, and elucidates knowledge. They will do the same in seminar-style discussions about the Great books from literature class or the primary sources from history class. Finally, poetry has always had pride of place in any literature class offered at The Heights. In the 8th grade, the boys will study Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Sappho, Pindar, Horace, Lucretius, and Ovid, but also many men from beyond the scope of this particular historical period, including Shelley and Byron.
There is no perfect curriculum, and we work to improve ours every year. But our decision to reunite what should not be sundered has been done in the middle school to promote the foundational idea of all education: You shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall set you free.
The freshman Core consists of a combined study of history and literature as collaborative academic components that mutually reinforce the students’ recognition of–and appreciation for–our common humanity. More pointedly, the freshman Core’s thorough examination of critical facts, events, and personages of Western history along with a joint perusal of contemporaneous, seminal literary texts that glorified, criticized, and/or rejected such history enable the freshmen to better appreciate where we, as a people, now are.
The history component of the Core covers almost two thousand years, spanning from the conversion of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire during the first century B.C. all the way through the rise and demise of the Napoleonic Empire in the early nineteenth century A.D. While studying the various epochs of history that occurred during these two millennia, the class reads eight selected literary texts that relate to this same span including the Aeneid, Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Geoffrey Chaucer’s “General Prologue” to the Canterbury Tales, Henry V, Frankenstein, and A Tale of Two Cities.
The freshman Core is a natural continuation of the work done in the 7th and 8th grade Cores, yet differs insofar as the teacher of each of our four sections is also the mentor of the boys in his class. Spending nearly two hours daily with his students allows the Core teacher to mentor his students with a closer knowledge of each boy’s circumstances.
This course is, in part, a philosophical study of the American people and the United States of America by way of some of its most foundational literary and historical texts—from the discovery of the New World to the present moment. This course seeks to cultivate:
- a sober knowledge of causes in our historical past, with an emphasis on law and custom as well as on the powerful impact of individual human choice to effect greatly the future;
- moral insight into the character of our nation through a balanced and loving admiration of our ancestors, particularly our founding fathers, and;
- a humane and responsive heart, one that learns of beauty from the great poets of America and the West, who teach and shape us, just as they taught and shaped those Americans who have gone before us.
Students are guided in this study by foundational documents of our founding, including not only the Declaration and Constitution, but also the Federalist Papers and letters by the founders. In addition, the Core will lean on works of American literature–biographical and fictional–that shed light on the humane aspects of nation’s history, including Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, My Antonia, and The Scarlet Letter.
The 10th grade Core ends by bringing the Western tradition back to its origins, in The Odyssey, itself a classic of our heritage, yet one that is appropriately directed for the first time to boys at this age.