Thomas MacDonald, New Orleans Center for Creative Arts
Michael Vincent Wallace, independent scholar
The New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA) has operated as a half-day performing and visual arts intensive high school program, developing the next generation of creative leaders, for 38 years. In August 2011, NOCCA added the Academic Studio to provide an academic curriculum and diploma-granting option for students enrolled in one of the afternoon arts programs (creative writing, dance, media arts, music, theatre, visual arts and culinary arts).
The Academic Studio’s humanities curriculum – English (reading, composition and literature), geography, world history, American history, civics and art history - is fully integrated with the goal of developing young artists/citizens with a deep understanding of both human history and the skills necessary to imagine, create and articulate their own place in the world. Overarching questions being examined include: What does it mean to be human? What are the unifying themes of human existence? Where, when and how do human experiences diverge?
Within the NOCCA humanities program, the world history curriculum has a unique structural framework. Instead of compartmentalizing the history curriculum into traditional, separate courses, this four-year high school program is shaped by a broad, chronological time frame and by multiple, global perspectives. Students learn the history of humanity from its origins to the present in its sweeping outlines, and by examining carefully chosen examples they also probe deeply into particular times and places. Year One starts with a deep time study of early humans and examines lives, places and stories through 1300 CE. Year Two looks at new expansions and encounters through 1700. In Year Three the emergence of a global system over the next 200 years is investigated. Finally, Year Four explores the complex interplay of global forces in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Students use disciplinary literacy skills to ask historical questions; select and analyze sources; evaluate and weigh evidence to support claims about the past; understand historical context; and consider numerous perspectives by conducting research projects and writing narratives and persuasive essays. Some essential questions raised are: How do we know what we know about the past? In what ways have humans affected and been affected by the environment? Why have the complexities of human relations changed over time? How have humans’ views of the cosmos, nature and one another changed and affected change through the ages?
The proposed roundtable panel will describe how the idea for this unique curriculum framework was first conceived and then developed through a collaboration of professional historians, secondary teachers, history educators, artists and authors. Presenters will illustrate how students learn, teaching methodologies employed and the nature of the team planning process. Emphasis will be placed on interdisciplinary studies, integration of the humanities, collaboration between arts and academic faculties at NOCCA, and use of the rich historical and artistic resources of New Orleans. We expect the conversation following the presentations, which will include students from NOCCA’s Academic Studio program, will be highly useful to secondary teachers, history educators and historians interested in innovative approaches to presenting and studying world history.