Hello from the Intersection of Spanish and History!

Alzar School | 06.02.13

Hello, Folks!

We have begun our Advanced Spanish classes by discussing the past, figuring out where we have come from and who we have been. Alzar, as much as anything, is a chance for our wonderful students to reinvent themselves–apart from familiar communities for perhaps the first time. This week we will be writing letters home in Spanish, so we’re hoping parents will challenge themselves to channel their days studying foreign language. (And if not, there’s always Google Translation.) After we finish up discussing more nuanced ways of communicating the past, we’ll transition more thoroughly into vocabulary of the home and expressions of uncertainty. These themes will certainly become prominent throughout the semester. ¬†The same uncertainty that our upcoming adventure in Chile provides will allow us to explore the subjunctive tense as well, a tense in Spanish that conveys doubt, desire, and ‘la incertidumbre.’ We will also take advantage of the impressive natural world that Chile offers us to learn more about the environment and debates facing its preservation. Of special interest in Chile in particular is the fate of rivers, as their damming demonstrates the costs and benefits on the employment, electrical, economic, and ecological levels.

In US History, we are examining the Gilded Age through a variety of primary sources. As we pore over the Chinese Exclusion Act, accounts from agrarian protesters (The Omaha Platform), and interviews with a small businessman run out by Standard Oil (George Rice), we are seeking to make history human on a smaller scale. In the course of massive business growth and huge cultural shift, it becomes easier to forget that people not much different from ourselves experienced these transformations.The mudslinging and polarity of politics raged on; policies of conservatism and liberalism proliferated during this era, along with questions about the role of government in promoting health, safety, and prosperity. As we attempt to construct coherent narratives amid corruption, cronyism, and class conflict, we are constantly asking “What if?” questions. In fact, the culminating assessment for this first unit will be a “What if?” essay, in which students choose a question of their own device that asks how might the United States have been different had things happened in a different way. If the creativity and critical thinking they have shown in class is any indicator, students’ responses will demonstrate the impressive connections and themes they are making as they draw on specific evidence to substantiate their claims.

Our journey in World History has just gone global with America’s connection to existing markets in Africa and Eurasia. As we consider the events that precipitated these new global networks, we are forced to consider the nature of trade in the modern day. How do goods circulate? How does the integration of global markets affect culture? As we head off to Chile, the interconnectedness will become apparent as we pass huge fruit growers’ highway-side tracts of land, many of their exports bound for North America. (Of course, we won’t complain about the freshness of the apples and late-season berries while we’re down there…) We, too, have been analyzing primary sources; investigating economic and cultural effects of silver mining and production in Potos√≠ (modern-day Bolivia) and in the Tokugawa Shogunate in Japan. We have been taking advantage of virtual experts, learning how to use an astrolabe–a device that revolutionized exploration and colonization by allowing sailors to calculate latitude, position, and time of day using the position of the stars–through a TED talk (highly recommended, by the way–http://www.ted.com/talks/tom_wujec_demos_the_13th_century_astrolabe.html). World history is a big topic, and today we’ll call another global witness from TED. This time we’ll be evaluating the argument that economic inequality harms societies as we look back to the hierarchies and social classes of nations during this intense period of colonization.

In all of our classes, Chile will afford us context, the chance to zoom out and to reframe. Whether it illuminates immigration in US History or the difference between the preterite and imperfect tenses in Spanish, we are all excited to apply our growing skillsets to practical challenges.