Expanding Territories and Expanding Vocabularies

Alzar School | 19.02.13

Hello, All!

We find ourselves down in Chile with our first week of classes underway, and our students have already demonstrated flexibility in adapting to our unconventional classrooms. As we huddle in the common spaces of cabañas, we are reminded of our motto: When we need a classroom, the world awaits. (Just so long as we have a white board, that is…)

On our whiteboards in World History this week we are talking about land and sea empires between 1450 and 1750, which gives us a chance to reflect on the origins of the places we find ourselves and the imperial legacies left behind. Seeing place names that have distinct Mapuche origins (a major indigenous culture of Chile) reminds us of what must have preceded  the Spanish we now speak here. Students will present to the class their findings about land empires in an oral presentation tomorrow afternoon, emphasizing the notion that we can learn more collectively. In focusing on empires, we will explore the theme of power and hierarchy, and how these sociopolitical systems arise and maintain themselves. This will be an especially important analog as we consider the “leader of the day”–or LOD–experiences that students will have and how they can foster a sense of buy-in with their followers. (Not that we’re hoping to turn them into megalomaniacal tyrants, to be clear.) As we finish up this unit toward the end of the week, we’ll transition into discussions of the Industrial Revolution, illuminated with new appreciations of our own material acquisition and consumption at home.

Fittingly, the idea of empire carries over into our study of US History, as we look at the changing shape of American foreign policy. In fact, we are preparing ourselves for a unit that spans both the First and Second World Wars and witnesses the shift from isolationist to expansionist America. At every turn, this period offers us an opportunity to trace the modern effects of historical trends, whether it’s the unprecedented growth of the federal government with Roosevelt’s New Deal or the “wars of liberation” that some argue influence modern foreign policy. Just yesterday we read soldiers’ accounts from the war in the Philippines in 1898, which present a relatively grim and morally ambiguous view of the conflict there, and wondered if there aren’t modern parallels to be drawn. A big emphasis of our course of study, as indicated by our “What if?” essay from last unit, is the focus on understanding bias as it relates to history, and this unit offers us the chance to examine historical “facts” in their illuminating context.

In Spanish, we are still progressing through vocabulary associated with life at home, even though home now looks quite different. Ellie and I have teamed up to challenge students to undertake what we have termed a “conversational challenge,” which requires students to engage the communities around us in language. Whether soliciting responses from local residents about what they do for work or fun or asking children their favorite colors, we’re excited to see folks interacting with people from the community. Already we have seen an impressive commitment to practicing Spanish in our students, and we know that this hard work will behoove them when they return both to our campus and their home schools. Toward the end of this week and the beginning of the next, students will be writing a script for their cooking program–which they will be filming soon as well–in which they will prepare a classic Chilean dish. My hope is that they’ll take the initiative to cook dinner for you all during their brief spring breaks…

So as we discuss expanding territories and expand our own vocabularies, we are focusing on our current experiences to help guide our studies. And what better place to do it?!

Evan Kramer

History & Spanish Teacher