The News of The Blake School Since 1916

The Spectrum

The News of The Blake School Since 1916

The Spectrum

The News of The Blake School Since 1916

The Spectrum

Minneapolis


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Teachers’ Interests Inspire Electives

 The blurbs in the course catalog don’t tell the whole story. Teachers are vital in shaping the experience of the classes they teach and making the experiences unique.

    Bill Colburn’s 21st Century Art History course came about through the convergence of several factors. A class he took in college piqued his interest in the subject, but the proximity of the Walker Art Center was the catalyst for him to start the class.

    “The museum has a curriculum of 21st century art history, so that’s part of it,” he says.

    The class visits the Walker once every week, which is “the thing that keeps it exciting” for him. Students can “do primary research at a revered institution…it might be considered the top museum that’s not in one of the major metropolises of the world.”

    Colburn prefers a more individual approach to art history than the memorization of dates and movements he’d previously learned. During the second quarter of the class, after they have a good base of general knowledge, students read six profiles of artists and study each in depth. “It’s the way I would teach a class, exactly how I would want to do it.”

    For Margi Youmans, the appeal of teaching her electives (Economic Systems, Gender Studies, and Local History) is that she gets to explore the ideas within the social sciences and history that she’s passionate about.

    She started out teaching Economics, which is now Economic Systems. “I think it’s a great introduction to the discipline,” she says. “I really enjoyed teaching it for two years at Blake. Ultimately, what I find fascinating about econ is the historical roots of economic systems…I think what [Economic Systems] can do is make visible our system, where we’re the fish and capitalism is the water, and how much of that we…take for granted.”

    Another course Youmans teaches is Minnesota History. “I think the thing that makes it really unique,” she says, “is saying [to students] ‘Look, history is literally at your fingertips.’” Students do individually driven research in the Blake archives, as well as various different archives throughout the Twin Cities.

    She says Gender Studies “has changed me, as an educator, but also just as a critical, self-reflective human being… It’s made a huge impact on me, just as a person.”…

I’m a curator of texts, I’m a curator of experiences, I’m a curator of assessments that I hope arm my students with the skills to be successful in college, but I’m not a disseminator. It’s just not my style. I think there are people who have that skill, and that’s their style, but it’s not mine.

— Ms.Youmans

    

Mostly, Youmans enjoys being a curator. She comments, “I’m a curator of texts, I’m a curator of experiences, I’m a curator of assessments that I hope arm my students with the skills to be successful in college, but I’m not a disseminator. It’s just not my style. I think there are people who have that skill, and that’s their style, but it’s not mine.”

    English teacher Mike Bazzett “ended up spending a couple years” translating the Popol Vuh, a Mayan epic poem and creation story, so he could teach it in his Myth and Memory class. “It’s thousands of years old, but not many people know about it…It was really only available in these scholarly translations.”

    The class came about, he says, because “I just was intrigued by, and wanted to teach, some older texts.” He “really wasn’t certain how it would fly, because Beowulf, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and Homer’s Odyssey and Gilgamesh, and the Popol Vuh, and the Ramayana, all these books…they’re ancient epic poetry, which isn’t exactly what kids turn to today for reading kicks.”

    However, he’s been “pleasantly surprised” with the outcome. “These poems all really sing in the English language, even though they’re all translated…It seemed to strike a chord.”

    Not all of the texts are ancient, though. “The memory part is looking at how these works get refracted, then, in today’s literature.” After reading Beowulf, students compare it with Grendel, a modern novel written from the perspective of the monster in the original story, and examine the many references to the Odyssey in film and poetry. “It’s fun to see how it then gets revisited and refracted…We start to pull the fish out of the lake, and show what water looks like.”

    Ultimately, Bazzett says, the class is about “placing them side by side and seeing what kind of meeting is made in the conversation between the old and the new.”

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