In the eighth grade, the humanities theme is “The American Experience.” At the outset, students review the foundational documents that they studied in depth the previous year: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. These documents are analyzed from a new perspective, with an eye to deriving from them the ideals they set forth. Throughout the year, these ideals are revisited as criteria by which one may assess the social realities of American history and contemporary life: to what extent are the ideals realized? Where are there gaps between the ideals and the realities? What might be needed to achieve a closer fit between realities and ideals?
The focus shifts next to Native and African American history, with an emphasis on highlighting differences in the American experience. By reading and responding to primary documents, historical fiction, and investigative journalism, students reconstruct the events that have shaped the experiences of African Americans, Native Americans, and others, with special emphasis on slavery, emancipation, discrimination, and the Civil Rights Movement. In connection with their study, they write poetry and research papers.
In a culminating exhibition, students interview an individual in the community to examine how their experience compares and contrasts with the American ideals that emerged from their studies. Students produce a written paper, a creative product, an oral presentation, and respond to “warm” and “cool” questions; these reflect their growing ability to relate the realities of American society to the ideals enshrined in America’s foundational documents and popular culture.
The eighth grade Holocaust unit focuses on the extermination of the Jews in concentration camps and death camps as well as the resistance; this unit of study incorporates non-fiction reading, including survivor accounts such as excerpts from Night by Elie Wiesel and Maus I and II by Art Spiegelman , historical literature, and analytical written responses.
As the students approach graduation, they work in committees to produce a school yearbook, with tasks including fundraising, writing copy, design and computer layout, organization, and printing of a full-color publication that reflects their years at Schechter Manhattan.
As the final unit of the year, students study the concept of utopia, read dystopian literature, and choose their own social issues for which to propose solutions. Students write proposals and create three-dimensional models to present their ideas of a utopian society.
Other experiences with literature complement the thematic organization of the curriculum: poetry, Shakespeare, nonfiction, an American novel: To Kill a Mockingbird, biography, and autobiography, each student’s own independent reading, newspaper and magazine articles.. The students’ writing experiences, both in connection with the theme and independent of it, take the form of a writing workshop, in which students approach writing as a recursive process, completing multiple drafts of each assignment, sharing through a formalized published anthology.. Grammar, spelling, conciseness, transitions, and active verb and varied word choice are taught directly and reinforced continuously in the writing workshop. Among the research skills that students refine throughout the year are note taking, paraphrasing, and MLA citation.