This approach works, judging from comments by students who have completed Hum I. “The transformation and enhanced maturity in students [after Hum I] is due to the intensity and depth of the course,” says Hadyn Phillips ’21. “The essential questions, daily discussions, and building of relationships among peers and faculty change people for the better. Hum I is not easy, but those who work hard gain a lot in a semester.” Blue Smith ’21 says, “Instead of just learning what the texts were supposed to mean, we studied what they mean for ourselves, and how we could bring that knowledge to our small part of the world.”
BESIDES CONTEMPLATING BIG IDEAS, students are also building transferable skills. How to take effective notes, when to speak in class, and when to make room for another’s comments. How to “download” rough ideas from their minds into a notebook. How to annotate. More broadly, how to think for themselves, discover and have confidence in their own convictions and beliefs, and how to express ideas with power and style. Poetry is one tool Hum I teachers use to help students develop these skills. Each Friday, every class member recites a poem from memory. “It’s intimidating, but they bond by cheering each other on,” says Meg Donnelly, who’s taught Hum I since the program’s founding.
Students notice that the world they’ve inherited from adults is badly flawed, and we encourage them to think about the role they can play in fixing the brokenness.” One poem that comes up early in the semester is NMH’s school song, “Jerusalem,” by William Blake. In fact, the poem forms a critical link between the “know thyself” emphasis of Hum I, and the 10th-grade Hum II curriculum, which directs students’ attention outward to the world. “Students notice that the world they’ve inherited from adults is badly flawed, and we encourage them to think about the role they can play in fixing the brokenness,” says Masteller. “We ask them to find a ‘satanic mill’ — to quote ‘Jerusalem’ — that needs dismantling, and to address the harm, to become aware of and take responsibility for the way they live on a day-to-day, minute-to-minute basis.”
“ YOU TEACH PEOPLE how to be humane by asking the right questions,” says Abernethy. “First, figure out what you need to become a better person and to become closer to the person next to you. Do those things; then realize that what you’ve done isn’t enough. It all comes down to being compassionate and curious. If we can teach those things in the classroom, that’s a good first step.” “Hum I does not make students more humane,” says Lars Andrews ’19. “Rather, it gives students the tools to calibrate their moral compass. With a firm foundation in religious and literary thought, students are then able to shift their outlook. I like to think of
The Magazine of Northfield Mount Hermon