Inside the Classroom: Humanities at GPS

Katy Berotti, Humanities Department Chair
A few years ago, I overheard surprise that an English award was given to a particular student, not because she wasn’t clearly bright and articulate (she was), but because her views were rarely in accord with the teacher’s. I can’t recall my exact reply then, but here it is now:

In a GPS English classroom, the goal isn’t to have students come through the door or leave the room thinking the same thing. We want them thinking intentionally. Students must read closely, listen attentively, and apply focused, critical energy to fostering understanding.

What helps this happen? If a recipe exists, it starts with a variety of (local!) ingredients and flourishes with attention to how they mix. We typically have students who strive to come into conversation well prepared. This doesn’t mean that everything is—to extend the metaphor—premeasured, ready-made, processed (a slow simmer produces a more layered bouquet). Students must have the curiosity and drive to grapple with what’s tricky, coming to class ready to ask questions and share their thought process. Likewise, GPS works with students at every level and in multiple ways—in and out of academic classes—to help students know themselves. Consider how difficult it is to establish a strong argument if you don’t, yourself, understand your values and the logical premises on which you’re staking your claim. As my sophomores now reading Brave New World might agree, the most generous, respectful, productive, and ultimately human question is “why?”

Up and down the hallway, our English classes expose students to a variety of perspectives. Whether considering the draw of ambition for a Scottish king, how colonization affects those languages, or how men of the same era might address the same problem via wildly different speeches, such reflections widen the world. Together we note that different cultures, positions within society, and even just what we each ate for breakfast or experienced in the hallway cause us each to encounter a subject differently.

Figuring out when our views will mix quickly and when they need to be folded in more gently can be tricky, but it’s easy to see that flavor comes when disparate tastes and textures mingle. It wasn’t an accident or an anomaly that we would praise a girl who represented her class well, who generated especially thoughtful questions that pushed others to elevate their responses, and who knew herself and respected her peers enough to both listen and challenge the room. (She was the yeast! The binding agent! Metaphors are fun!)

In short, if there is, boiled down, a secret sauce, it is no secret. Keep close to the stovetop those GPS values: honor, respect, curiosity, individuality, and (both fresh and preserved) relationships.