2014-15 Senior Tutorials

1984 or 2015?

In the fictional world of Winston Smith, the main character in George Orwell's dystopian novel, 1984, war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength. But how fictional is this in today's world? In this tutorial, we will read 1984 and will work to assess possible parallels to our own society. Drawing both from Orwell's text and previously classified documents, we will analyze militarism, the surveillance state, and the media as we ask ourselves, "To what extent is the 'Big Brother' world of 1984 taking shape in 2015?" Writing will primarily revolve around evaluating connections between the novel and our times but will also explore the stories of Julian Asange, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden.

Accessing Arabia

This course will be a study of the Arabic language, both learning some of the language and learning about the language. Students will learn basic language skills, learn about the history and structure of Arabic, and learn how others have approached the language. The course will start with an exploration of linguistics focusing mainly on the question of how humans form and learn languages. What aspects of language are present in all languages, and how are some languages, especially Arabic, distinct? How do we learn languages? Then, students will explore the history of the Arabic language and situate its current diglossic nature and many dialects within a historical and cultural context. How does the Arabic language reflect and how has it shaped Arab culture and history? With a context for understanding the language, students will then learn how to read and write the Arabic script and learn basic Arabic phrases. An emphasis will be placed on understanding what exactly they are learning, i.e. “Would someone on the street say this? Would a newscaster say this?” Lastly, students will read about people discovering Arabic and Arabia for the first time. How is their experience similar to those who have done it already? What should they be prepared for should they choose to study the language?

"And justify the ways of God to men": A "First" Reading of Milton's Paradise Lost

This tutorial offers a first of hopefully many readings of John Milton’s Christian epic poem, Paradise Lost, a telling of the story of Satan’s fall, the creation of the world, and the subsequent fall of Adam and Eve. It explores the poetic problem of being “first" — how could Milton in the 17th century be "first" to tell this tale? — as well as the “justification” of God’s ways as presented by this great English classicist, humanist and Christian apologist: the problem and allure of evil within the divinely created universe, and the quandaries of reconciling fate and human will, divine omniscience and human reason.

Ceramicist and Author Edmond de Waal

In this tutorial we will explore the work of Edmond de Waal, the British ceramicist and author. His book, The Hare with the Amber Eyes, is more than just a family memoir. De Waal takes us through his research into the origins of a family heirloom of Netsuke he inherits. De Waal’s story begins with our getting to know the aging Uncle Iggy in Japan. From there we get a glimpse of life in Paris in 1880 and in Vienna through both world wars. De Waal’s families were wealthy Jewish bankers and art collectors, and thus his memoir is also a story of Jewish European history. The Netsuke are the only art objects left to be inherited after the Nazi stole an unfathomable amount of privately owned art from the Jews. The ramifications of these thefts are still shaking the art world today.

Along with this memoir we will also explore de Waal’s ceramic work and its evolution over time. Through readings and discussions we will explore different writing styles: historical writing, poetry and prose, art comparison, as well as contemporary editorial writing are just a few of the ways students in this tutorial will express themselves. At times the spoken word will be our meditation as we try our own hand at throwing vessels inspired by Edmond de Waal’s work in porcelain.

The Citizen Body

While classical Athens invented the concept of a direct democracy, participation was not available to everyone and not every citizen had equal influence. In determining who led Athens when all were theoretically equal, this tutorial will focus on the physical human body of the Athenian citizen. At the beginning of the tutorial, we will use Thucydides and modern interpreters of him to create an idealized image of the Athenian citizen. Then, relying primarily on the comedies of Aristophanes, we will examine public depictions of ideal citizens, disgraced citizens, and those, such as women, who could never be citizens. The appearance, sexual habits, and appetites of all these will be investigated to determine how Athenians wanted their citizens and their leaders to act. The basic format of the tutorial will be to apply secondary scholarship on gender, sexuality, and even food to the ancient Greek authors. Each week we will read parts of a Greek comedy and use secondary scholarship to work towards a better understanding of the role of the body in Athenian politics.

Epidemics: Past and Present

This course will focus on the science of epidemics, the mathematics that help predict their spread, and the works of fiction that have been created in response to the some of the major epidemics of human civilization. Beginning with a broad overview of all of the major epidemics, we will discuss the features of epidemics and their spread. Our first specific focus will be on the bubonic plague. We will look at the disease itself, learning what causes it and its symptoms. Then we will look at how the bubonic plague spread throughout Europe during the middle ages and discuss the implications of that spread. We will read Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks to consider what it was to live in the time of the plague. We will also study modern epidemics, including a discussion of both the real and the potential threats. Ebola, its cause, its spread and the world reaction to the current epidemic will be a major focus. Included in this analysis will be the development of mathematical models that help predict the spread of contagious diseases. We will watch Contagion, a feature film made in conjunction with Center for Disease Control in order to consider the current threat of an epidemic and the role of the CDC and the World Health Organization in managing that threat.

Frailties of the Mind

The human mind is not a splendid, all-purpose learning machine. Instead, it is more like a Swiss army knife—a limited tool with specialized capacities and predictable weaknesses. Such weaknesses, which typically go unnoticed, are the focus of this tutorial. Why do people make so many unwise decisions? Using examples from our own experiences, we will ask why are we so easily distracted by trivialities, so easily led to false beliefs, and so comfortable with unreasonable conclusions? We will ask how our mental weaknesses have arisen and what can be done to compensate for them. Sources include Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, Dan Gilbert's Stumbling On Happiness, Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational, Gary Marcus' Kluge, and Johnah Lehrer’s How We Decide.

Global Media and Culture

This tutorial will investigate global media and its impact on various cultures throughout society, focusing primarily on the development and dispersal of new forms of media, such as Internet, social media, and 24-hour news. After first building a foundational understanding of "globalization," media technology, and cultural shifts, we will critically examine the following questions: Who owns the majority of the media? How do they use framing and agenda setting to push forward their opinions and political views? Which cultures have limited access to media due to the uneven distribution of technological innovation, or, quite simply, a lack of freedom of press? Additionally, we will study how film, music, and sports have impacted and transformed cultures around the world through the increasing accessibility of media. Assignments will be analysis of a number of readings, short writing excerpts, and films (Slumdog Millionaire and Outfoxed).

The Life and Works of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This tutorial will follow the historic rise of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through a chronological study of his writings and speeches. Students will read from his early days leading the Montgomery Bus Boycott to his "Letter from the Birmingham Jail" and his final sermon in Memphis (“I Have Been to the Mountaintop”), among others.

Look Up: A Study of the Spring Sky

Have you ever looked up into the night sky and ever wondered what you are seeing? Ever wondered what else is out there? Ever wondered if that bright spot you see is a star, a planet, a galaxy, or maybe just an airplane? This course will combine a study of the Universe with observation of the Spring Sky. You will learn about stellar and planetary astronomy, with specific attention focusing on the constellations and planets found in the sky this spring. This year will feature transits of Saturn in April and Jupiter in May, as well as the setting Mercury during most of the spring. Other possible celestial objects for observation, depending on sky conditions, include the full moon, a total lunar eclipse, the Lyrids meteor shower, the Beehive Cluster, and the Whirlpool Galaxy. The primary text for this tutorial will be Cosmos by Carl Sagan. This text will take you on a journey into the beauty and mystery of astronomy, science, art, and religion through 15 billion years of cosmic history. We will also watch excerpts from both the original Cosmos documentary from 1980, as well as the 2014 remake starring Neil deGrasse Tyson. These resources, combined with other primary source documents, will help us ask and attempt to answer questions about the Universe as well as our place in it.

Modern Microeconomics: Game Theory

Game theory explores the strategic interactions between agents whose decisions affect one another. The Prisoner’s Dilemma is a classic example in which individuals pursue their own self-interest yet create a non-optimal outcome. Such a result flew in the face of Adam Smith’s economics. The game theory work of John Nash earned him the Nobel Prize because his “Nash Equilibrium” became instrumental in understanding topics as diverse as democratic elections, industrial organization, and the Cold War. Students in the tutorial will be presented the basic tenets of game theory. Each week they will be responsible for solving a particular problem, writing a paper describing it, and presenting it to the group. The culminating assignment will be a paper that uses game theory to analyze a current conflict or problem. The admissions “game” played between boarding schools and the interaction between faculty and VI Form students in terms of homework have been among the topics analyzed by past participants. Previous study of economics is not required.

Murder and Mystique: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy

“The assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy on November 22, 1963, was a cruel and shocking act of violence directed against a man, a family, a nation, and against all mankind. A young and vigorous leader whose years of public and private life stretched before him, was the victim of the fourth Presidential assassination in the history of a country dedicated to the concepts of reasoned argument and peaceful political change.” So stated the opening paragraph of the final report of the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President JFK, September 24, 1964. The work of this tutorial is to strive to decipher one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century, who killed President John F. Kennedy? We will examine this question by first considering important events that shaped the late 1950s and early 1960s, including Kennedy’s successes and setbacks, allies and enemies, as president. The assassination in Dallas rocked the country, in a single moment, shattering the United States’ innocence; this will be the focal point for our investigation. In addition to the events of that tragic day, we will critically evaluate available evidence with the help of several primary sources including film footage and news records. We will review information from both formal government investigations as well as from private sources, and we will sort through the conflicting data to analyze and evaluate this information. The final project for this tutorial will be to conduct individual investigations, offer interpretations of the case, and, ultimately, draw our own conclusions by supporting an existing theory or by developing a new one.

A Natural and Human History of the Upper Appoquinimink River, Delaware and Vicinity

Do you know much about the natural history of your backyard, whether here or at home? What do you know of the plants, the flowers, the fruit that surround you? Are dandelions edible? What do you know of the animals these plants support? Are campus squirrels more at ease than woodland ones? How about the surrounding soil, water, and air? Is our land richer than that of the Great Plains? What has geology contributed? Does marl (Marl Pit Road) make Noxontown Pond water more basic? What's been the effect of these resources on the quality of life for humans and our communities? Did Native Americans sleep and hunt here, on this very spot, 800 years ago? Why do we build houses on some of the richest land in America? What's been the human influence on the natural resources over time? Where are we heading as a community, as a civilization? What will be the local effects of climate change on you and your immediate environment?

We will be encouraged to explore, especially outdoors, to help us better understand sustainability and encourage its practice while having a fun, rewarding time trying to answer some of these questions; in the process, we will further appreciate the natural world and apply what we learn from our explorations and readings to our "backyard," our natural world. We will learn a process and gain an appreciation that could be repeated in the backyards of our hometowns. The more we appreciate our natural environments, the better care we will give them for years to come.

Novels of New York

For more than two centuries, the city of New York has been the backdrop for thousands of texts and the home of many authors, poets, and playwrights. With the advent of September 11, 2001, many writers had yet another reason for investigating and analyzing New York and exploring the people and events that have made New York what it is: a city that is a global cultural center and place of inspiration, excitement, opportunity, and energy while also being a place of inequality, injustice, loneliness, and sadness. In this tutorial we will explore two—and possibly three, if time allows— twenty-first century novels that are grounded in the place that is New York. We will start with Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin, a text that primarily takes place in pre-9/11 New York, and then we will move on to Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, a novel that locates itself in the trauma of both 9/11 and the Holocaust. If we have time, we will study Jennifer Egan's 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Visit From the Goon Squad, a text that begins in and returns to New York.

One Hundred Years of Solitude

One Hundred Years of Solitude, written in 1967 by Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez, is one of Latin America’s novels by excellence and one of the most important novels of the 20th century. One of the most important characteristics of this novel is that García Márquez breaks with all “realism” and introduces myth in fiction. He constructs a mythical past in which fantastic elements are part of daily existence. Macondo, the town that the Buendía Family founds, is more than just a place in the world: it is a state of being. We will discuss the novel within the frame of Latin America’s history and the creation of memory.

Redwoods and Plastic Pink Flamingos, the Natural and Unnatural: Nature and the Wilderness in American History and Culture

How have Americans imagined wilderness over the course of American history? In what ways have we represented the natural world in art, literature, and popular culture? How have we sought to shape – and how have we been shaped by – our interactions with nature? How has the history of our relationships with nature affected the environmental movement in the U.S. and American attitudes towards the environment today? This tutorial will explore these and related questions, using a variety of sources from history, environmental ethics, literature, art, and popular culture.

What Do You Want to be When You Grow Up?

The goal of this tutorial is to help students explore the kind of worklife they should pursue. We will read a broad range of nonfiction accounts of work experiences, such as those of lawyers, carpenters, bike-messengers, software engineers, and many more. These readings, together with personality tests, and conversations with working adults, will help students explore the world of work. We will ask: What meaning does work have for different workers? How do social influences affect our notions of work and leisure? And, what are the tradeoffs that go with different career choices? Sources will range from literature (such as The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy) to literary journalistic works (such as A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr and Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder). We will also read and listen to materials that analyze how work is structured, such as The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling by Arlie Russell Hochschild and Ted Talks by Mike Rowe (“Learning from Dirty Jobs”), Dan Ariely (“What makes us feel good about our work?”), and Dan Pink (“The Puzzle of Motivation”). Additional sources may include Gig: Americans Talk About Their Jobs at the Turn of the Millennium and What Should I Do with My Life?: The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question by Po Bronson.

U.S. Foreign Policy toward Latin America: Cuba—A Case Study with a Brand New Twist

The United States has a unique relationship with Latin America due to historical coincidence and geographical proximity. Perhaps no other country in Latin America has as special a relationship with the United States as Cuba. Cuba's destiny has been inextricably tied to the foreign policy decisions of the U.S. since before its independence from Spain. Indeed, Cuban independence followed directly from U.S. military intervention and U.S. policy makers, not Cubans, drafted its first constitution. The relationship has gone through many phases, beginning when both were colonies of European powers, through independence for one, then the other, through revolution, the Cold War and a fifty-year estrangement, to the brand new frontier of regularized relations during the Revolutionary Period.

In this tutorial, politico-historical in nature, we will give a brief account of the pre-Cuban independence period, pay more attention to the pre-Revolutionary period and focus a good deal on the Revolution and how it affected the relationship between the nations. However, the new twist to this tutorial lies in the currently unfolding process of normalization of relations in light of the Obama administration’s decision to roll back as much of the embargo of Cuba as possible using executive action. In a sense, during the last half of the tutorial, we will be following the most current of events as they occur. By the end of the spring, we will make our best guesses as to how the next phase of the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba will develop. There is no more timely a moment to take on this case study than right now.

Workshop in Short Fiction

Structured like a graduate-level writing course, this tutorial will focus on the writing, sharing, and critique of student fiction. Each student enrolled in the course will have the opportunity to present at least three works of short fiction to be workshopped by the class. Class meetings will begin with the discussion of a published work of recent or contemporary short fiction followed immediately by a critical discussion of student work. Published selections will include work by Dennis Johnson, Jhumpa Lahiri, Raymond Carver, Edwidge Danticat, Jim Shepard, Elizabeth Tallent, Karen Russell, Junot Diaz, Grace Paley, and others, as well as weekly selections from literary magazines like The New Yorker, N+1, Ploughshares, Tin House, and the Atlantic. Course packs will be provided.

Writing the Civil Rights Movement

This tutorial will focus on the history of the Civil Rights Movement on the grass roots level. We will begin by studying the ways in which the movement has been written about by other historians, considering some of the most important historiography of the Movement from the last twenty years. Then, students will have the remarkable opportunity to help create, curate, and develop their own arguments from an amazing collection of primary source material, in the archival papers of Mary (Mimi) Gray Howard (Ms. Hagenbuch's mother), who was involved in the work of the Movement on the ground in Knoxville, Tenn. We will consider multiple ways of constructing narratives of the Civil Rights Movement, in literature, art, and history—both oral and written.