I have always loved to create. Arts and crafts projects and building Lego structures with my brothers were practically routine as a child. Many years later, I still feel the need to create something out of nothing, both artistically and with my learning. I enjoy classes that create purpose out of knowledge, and to me only one course at ASL seemed to satisfy this desire: Human Rights Seminar.
I walked into the first class, with 16 other anxious students, and it was clear that none of us knew what to expect; we were the guinea pigs in a previously unattempted experiment. We were told to prepare for “a Harkness discussion on steroids,” which made me feel uneasy and exhilarated all at once.
The first article handed out in class had a distinct quote that struck me: “Knowledge is most powerful when it is acted upon.” Although I was not familiar with the author of the article, Jamilah Pitts, little did I know, this would set the foundation for the course that would follow. International law, human rights theory and current events are only a few of the topics covered on a class-by-class basis. I am challenged to compare history to the present day. We read, discuss and debate, all while tackling profound, existential questions such as “At what point does freedom of speech turn into hateful speech?” and “Can the world coexist without war?”
Just as any other Social Studies class, Human Rights Seminar calls for analyzing and interpretation skills. However, the course takes it a step further than any other class or Advanced Placement course I have experienced. While we are currently studying the foundation of human rights, we will be contacting organizations related to human rights work that hold our interest in the near future. The responsibility to coordinate with speakers of these organizations, plan simulations and conduct independent research will soon become an integral part of our class participation. Rather than a traditional summative assessment, the students in this class will be held accountable for creating a Human Rights Symposium day – similar to Aequitas Day run by the Social Justice Council – comprised of workshops, speakers, activities and the participation of the rest of the High School.
Attending ASL for 13 years has given me enough time to reflect on my academic experience. Yet, it wasn’t until my final year of high school that I began to question the basis of our curriculum. Classes need experimentation. I believe that this is essential in receiving the best quality education that ASL is capable of giving.
This school has provided me with an incredible education, but I do believe, however, that there is room for the expansion and implementation of a more action-based curriculum, or rather experiential education. I am not denying that we need to learn, in part, the way we currently learn; obtaining knowledge and understanding are basic principles necessary for success. I am, however, questioning what we do with this knowledge.
I believe that an education of this nature brings far more to the table than a traditional education, and entails skills such as communication and self-reliance: the kind of skills that can be applied to the real world outside the walls of our high school.
I want to create something other than a persuasive five paragraph essay. I want to explore my capabilities through action. Human Rights Seminar stands as the perfect model for this unsolved equation, but we should not be satisfied with just one class like this. The administration should properly consider altering our curriculum to better fit this model.
Written by Print and Media Editor Olivia Abrams