On a sunny morning in Asheville, North Carolina, John Gregory leads his humanities class in a literary discussion outside on the lawn of Asheville School—a coeducational boarding school where the average class size is 11. They are discussing Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon.
At first, the class dialogue centers on the literary style of the novel. Then something unique happens. Gregory, chair of Asheville School’s humanities department, asks the students to focus on a reference in the novel to Malcom X. Soon, the discussion sounds less like a literature class and more like a U.S. History debate.
And that’s exactly the point to Asheville School’s newest model in curriculum reform—a humanities curriculum that combines history, literature, music, art history, religion, and architecture into one classroom.
“The beauty of this philosophy of teaching is that it enriches learning when you allow history, English, and music to complement one another,” says Gregory.
By integrating these subjects, the humanities program uses a team teaching approach to emphasize writing and creativity in a highly engaging classroom environment.
Jessica Luna, who is currently attending Harvard University after graduating from Asheville School in 2006, recalls how she studied music, history and literature to complete a humanities project describing how the Greeks used to sing their works.
“When it all comes together, you don’t notice that history, music, and literature are different subjects,” says Luna. “It makes what you are learning so much more interesting.”
These humanities courses are built around essential questions that tie the four-year sequence together and give coherence to students’ experience. In Asheville School’s Ancient Studies class for all freshmen, the question “What does it mean to be fully human?” animates ninth graders’ year-long inquiry into classical civilizations.
“Knowledge only becomes valuable when it’s connected to a bigger picture,” says Jay Bonner, associate head of school, humanities teacher, and chair of Asheville School’s Curriculum Committee. “That’s the impulse behind this change in our curriculum. We’re making the connections between and among disciplines explicit in these courses, and students see them, and the lights go on.”
The School’s humanities program is writing intensive, which should help students improve their SAT scores with the recent addition of a 25-minute student-written essay section.
“The new SAT plays right into what we’re doing,” says Gregory. “There’s only one way to become a better writer—to do lots of it and to get constant feedback. Working with a team teacher allows for even more drafts of each paper. When kids in our humanities classes look at their folder of writing at the end of the year, they say, ‘Oh, that thing is fat!’ And they turn into better writers too.”
Asheville School’s new humanities program has also inspired new models of teaching and learning. “We can divide the students up into small groups to work on writing, we can have debates, we can listen to a symphony, we can have artists come in to class, or we can go seek out an expert at UNC-Asheville,” says Gregory. “You can’t do those things in a 40-minute period.”
Asheville School is the Southeast’s premier coeducational college preparatory boarding school for students in grades 9-12. Founded in 1900, Asheville offers eager learners an education of the highest quality in a close-knit, supportive community.
Located in Asheville, North Carolina, the School’s 300-acre campus overlooks the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains. With approximately 260 students enrolled, the student population represents 22 states and 12 countries. About half are male and half are female.
With an average class size of 13 students, the school prepares students for admission to and success in the finest colleges and universities in the nation. An Asheville School education provides students an exceptional foundation in five core areas of study—humanities (English and history), mathematics, science, foreign language, and the arts—and an array of opportunities for intellectual exploration.
Interscholastic competition is offered in 13 sports, including baseball, basketball, cross country, field hockey, football, golf, lacrosse, soccer, swimming, tennis, track and field, volleyball, and wrestling.
The school puts its setting in the mountains of North Carolina to very good use with a dynamic mountaineering program that offers rock climbing, ice climbing, camping, caving, kayaking, mountain biking, skiing and snowboarding.
Recent graduates are currently attending Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, University of Pennsylvania, UNC-Chapel Hill, Brown, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Cornell, Duke, and Davidson, among others.
To learn more about the Asheville School experience, visit www.ashevilleschool.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 828-254-6345.