Grade VIII Central Subject: Democracy and Immigration in the United States

Naturally embedded in any academic curriculum are human themes. In keeping with Shady Hill School’s traditions, we aim to integrate within all subjects themes regarding character, values, respect for self and others, and the responsibility children have as members of the community.

The Grade VIII course in Central Subject examines events in American history from multiple perspectives, especially those of immigrants and migrants. Throughout the course, students put themselves into the shoes of others, looking for ways to connect the past with the present, and to connect the people they are studying with themselves. Students learn to develop thoughtful opinions that are supported and illustrated with evidence from our texts, as well as expressed with clarity and insight.

How has the “We” in “We the People” changed over time?
Why do people move? Why do people stay? What do they take? What do they leave behind?
How do we balance being individuals with being members of a group?
What is your universe of obligation? (How) do you choose to participate?
Whose story is being told? Who’s telling it? How else could it be told? Who tells America’s story?

Central Subject: Democracy and Immigration in the United States
Students begin the year with a study of the U.S. Constitution as a blueprint for a utopian society. At the same time, they read Lord of the Flies as an example of a dystopia asking: What are the needs of a nation? What makes a good leader? Does society need rules? What is it like to be an outsider? With an understanding of the United States as a new nation, students examine U.S. Expansion and its impact on the identities of Native Mexicans and Native Americans. While they explore the impact of borders on nations and individuals, The House on Mango Street provides students with an opportunity to reflect on their own identities as they read about a girl who comes to understand her relationship with her community. Students use this historical study of rights and rules, borders, and identities to connect to current issues of immigration and the Constitution in the news.
During the winter, students examine the shifting U.S. policy towards Native Americans in the 19th century and consider the legacy of such policy in the 20th century as they lead each other in book groups about The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  Students then research an immigrant group who came to the United States during the Great Waves of Immigration (1840-1920) to investigate the changing political and social fabric of the nation. Students also read When the Emperor Was Divine to contemplate how different groups were received and treated within the nation. Recognizing the barriers to citizenship and belonging, students study slavery, Reconstruction, and the Great Migration. With A Raisin in the Sun, students explore the theme of a “dream deferred” and wonder about the differences between segregation, integration, and assimilation.

The trip to New York City during flex week allows students to experience the curriculum firsthand as they visit sites such as Ellis Island, the Tenement Museum, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, the United Nations, and the Apollo Theater. When they return from New York City, students study moments of social change in the 20th century through an independent research project. At the same time, students bring to life The Tempest by William Shakespeare as they reflect on both Prospero’s – and their own – journey to a new land and need to say farewell. The year culminates with a portfolio presentation in which each student shares with faculty and parents how they have developed essential habits of learning.

Central Subject Literature and References
Seedfolks, Paul Fleischman; Lord of the Flies, William Golding; The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros; The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie; When the Emperor Was Divine, Julie Otsuka; A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry; The Tempest, William Shakespeare, selected poems and short stories. We will also read various historical documents and first-hand accounts. The textbook, A More Perfect Union, and sourcebooks from Facing History and Ourselves supplement the readings to provide a chronological and thematic understanding of United States history from approximately 1776 – 1960. While much of the skills work will be taught in the context of Central Subject, supplementary texts are used to review or introduce vocabulary and grammar.
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