What is the good person? What is the good life? What is the good society?

HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT: MRS. VAN ZANT'S FOUNDATIONAL CURRICULUM? | Claire Van Zant's Humanities curriculum was divided into 6, one-semester classes. These were advanced, elective courses. Her hope was that students would begin the series in their first year and continue through to graduation. I almost made it- an insurmountable scheduling conflict meant that I missed the sixth and final class.

In 1980-1983, these were her classes:
  1. Humanities I, Ancient Athens
  2. Humanities I, New York and Contemporary America
  3. Humanities II, Man and God
  4. Humanities II, Measure of Modern Man
  5. Humanities III, Beyond Enlightenment
  6. Humanities III, ? (I cannot for the life of me remember the title of the final class)

I don't remember using a textbook during Mrs. Van Zant's Humanities series. I figured she used something because many of the readings in Humanities I were clearly photocopied (or mimeographed to use the vernacular of the day,) from what appeared to be a book.

Forty years later and quite by accident, I stumbled upon a curriculum textbook entitled The Humanities in Three Cities. There were the photocopied essays, exactly as they appeared in the handouts. Not only that, but the book encompassed the exact content of the Humanities I classes: Athens, Florence and New York.

The entire book had been scanned very poorly so I searched for a physical copy. (Thank you, Amazon Marketplace!) When my copy arrived from Sussex, UK, I was shocked to recognize the cover-- she did have the book! But to my recollection, a stack of them remained on the classroom bookshelf and were never used while I was there.

When I inspected the book's introduction, I recognized a teaching philosophy quite similar to Lady Claire's approach: reading, lecture, discussion and written examination. Her study questions were more advanced than those in the book-- not surprising-- but the essence of her approach is there.

The curriculum is American and the copyright is 1969. Van Zant had been living and teaching in the U.S. for seven years by that point but she had yet to develop her Humanities program. Is it possible she was drawn to a teaching approach that echoed Oxford but was also aimed at American students? I'm not sure and I only met her surviving niece once and have no way of knowing where in the UK she lives.

While The Humanities in Three Cities appears to be a blueprint for Humanities I, she crafted four additional classes that tackled topics not included in the Holt curriculum. It's possible this book was her jumping-off place.

I have a vague memory that at some time, the class "Ancient Athens" was called "Ancient Athens and Renaissance Florence." We certainly did cover aspects of Florence so perhaps this is true but I see no record of it. I also think (perhaps wrongly) that I was told the one Humanities III class I was unable to take focused entirely on Shakespeare's King Lear. If anyone can clear these mysteries up for me, I'd be grateful.

In the meantime, I post the introduction to the Holt text here for your review. If you knew her, you may see some similarity to her approach.

An Inquiry Approach, by Edwin Fenton and John M. Good. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc (January 1, 1969). ISBN-10: 0307683575. ISBN-13: 978-0307683571

This is a new kind of textbook. Most social studies texts you've read in the past probably contained information about a particular subject, like civics or geography. The texts were written by one or two authors who organized their material into chapters, ach with an important theme. There were numerous illustrations the form of pictures, graphs, tables, and charts. You read or examined this material to learn the facts and generalizations it resented.

Instead of twenty or thirty chapters written by one or two au-hors, this text has sixty-two readings. After an introductory chapter entitled "The Humanities: An Introduction," there are three units. each unit is made up of three chapters, each of which is composed of a number of readings. Each reading contains at least one article or piece of source material, taken from a diary, piece of fiction, historical account, or other publication. An introduction linking one reading with another, and study questions, alerting you to important points and issues, open each reading. Additional questions, designed to alert you to problems raised by specific points the readings, appear as marginal notes opposite the passages hey refer to.

Although maps accompany each unit, you will find few illustrations in the text. However, filmstrips, recordings, and dittoed class handouts have been provided for use with various readings.

Most students are able to study one reading in this text for each night's homework assignment. Because most classes meet about ninety times a semester and there are only sixty-two readings, there will be days when your teacher will not assign readings from this book. On these days, he may give tests, assign supplementary readings, study current events, or hold additional class discussions or dividual conferences with students. He may also suggest that any students should spend two days on a particular reading.

Both the text and the audio-visual materials have been designed so that instead of merely memorizing facts and generalizations, you will identify problems, develop hypotheses (or tentative answers to questions), and draw your own conclusions from the evidence. This course in the humanities emphasizes basic questions about the nature of the good man, the good life, and the good society. This course does not aim for consensus about issues such as these. Instead, it has been designed so that each individual can develop his own philosophy.

Everyone working at a job, studying in school or college, or rearing a family ought to know clearly what he believes and why he believes it. Humanistic study provides opportunities to investigate questions about the nature of the good man, the good life, and the good society

Modern education helps people to prepare for a career. It should also help them to develop a consistent and satisfying philosophy of life. Everyone working at a job, studying in school or college, or rearing a family ought to know clearly what he believes and why he believes it. Humanistic study provides opportunities to investigate questions about the nature of the good man, the good life, and the good society.

Most of the great humanistic thinkers have lived in cities. At one time or another, a number of cities have made outstanding contributions to philosophy, music, art, literature, or history. We have selected for study three cities at three widely scattered periods of time-ancient Athens, Renaissance Florence, and modem New York City-partly because each one made great contributions to thought about the human condition and partly because the range of this thought was so wide. The variety of ideas you will encounter as you read works written in and about these cities should help you to clarify your own beliefs about yourself and your world. We welcome you to the beginning of a quest which should last a life-time-the search for personal answers to the great philosophic questions which give meaning to life.

The text of The Humanities in Three Cities consists of sixty-two readings which have been edited from published works or written especially for this course. Each day's assignment follows a common pattern:

  1. An introduction giving background information and relating the reading to other readings in the same chapter.
  2. Study questions stressing key points which you should think about to prepare for class discussion.
  3. An article written especially for this course, or a piece of source material such as a newspaper article, a speech, or an excerpt from a book.

Before coming to class, read the lesson and take notes. Since your teacher will distribute dittoed material from time to time, you should have a three-ring looseleaf notebook which can hold both the material which will be distributed and your homework and classroom notes. Note-taking helps you to remember what the lesson is about, and thus prepares you for class discussion. There are many methods of note-taking. But unless you find from experience that a different method works better, use the following one:

  1. Write the reading number and the title of the reading at the top of a piece of notebook paper.
  2. Skim the entire reading. Read the topic sentences of the intro-duction. Next, read the study questions and fix them in your mind. Then read the topic sentences of the article itself. When you have finished, state in your own words what the reading is about. All this should take no more than two or three minutes.
  3. Read the introduction and take notes as you read. Pick out the major ideas and necessary information to support those ideas. It will save time if you develop your own method of shorthand, instead of using complete sentences. But remember that you may wish to study from the notes several months later, so take down enough information to make the notes meaningful.
  4. Read the article or source material carefully and take notes as you read. Put any conclusions you draw in parentheses as a reminder that they are your ideas. Do not underline or mark the text.
  5. Go over your notes, underlining key words or ideas. This will help you to learn the information in the reading, and prepare for class discussion.
  6. Try to answer the study questions for yourself. Do not write your answers out. Simply think about them and be prepared to present and defend your answers in class.
  7. Keep a vocabulary list of new words and their definitions.

It will also help to keep your class notes and your reading notes together in your notebook, so that you can review without flipping through a mass of paper to find material which goes together. If you have trouble with this note-taking method, or if it takes too long, ask your teacher for help.

Supplementary Readings

At the end of each unit, you will find a list of books, most of them paperbacks, suggested for supplementary reading. In some cases teachers may add titles to the lists of Suggested Readings in order to guide you toward books in your school library on topics that may be of special interest to you. Your teacher may have placed these books in the library or in your classroom. He may require you to read some of them or assign some for extra credit.

Following the author and title of each book, you will find a brief description of the volume. The descriptions will help you decide which volumes you want to read. You may also want to leaf through a number of the books first to get a better idea of what they are like. Some of the volumes are easier to read than others. Many contain numerous illustrations. You should choose something ap-propriate to your own interests and reading skill.

Your teacher may wish to make special rules and regulations about the Suggested Readings. Some teachers may choose not to use them at all. Others may ask you to submit book reviews based on the volumes you select. Instructions for writing book reviews have been included as a handout in the audio-visual kit.