Michelangelo died at eighty-nine, leaving an unfinished sculpture and a drawing near where he was found. The drawing was actually a caricature of himself as an old man. Next to the sketch were the words, “Still learning.” On his deathbed, Leonardo de Vinci was asked how he felt. He replied, ” A day well spent makes it sweet to sleep. A life well used makes it sweet to die.”
As the seventh grade children enter puberty, they are also adventuring across a basic threshold experience on their way to selfhood. Can they enter this dark unknown territory carrying a flaming torch to allow discovery as they wander and probe? Can they spend their time productively bearing in mind others behind them also need their light? If their spirit of inquiry and creativity in a social context can be fostered in puberty, they will surely find it sweet to enter adulthood. If it isn’t fostered, they may stumble endlessly in the darkness, burdened by excess baggage of self-centeredness, criticism and chaotic emotions. To help them cross this threshold, we present a rich panorama designed to take them out to civilizations and people who share their mood of soul, as well as lead them to a closer look at each one’s own environment and inner being.
Two subjects addressing these areas are English and History. The history block of the Renaissance and Reformation really begins modern times with a dauntless quest into the unknown that is also akin to the seventh graders’ soul mood. Allegiance to traditional authority no longer holds sway. Individualism overcomes feudalism, as personified by Joan of Arc. Human capacities are limitless as epitomized by Leonardo Da Vinci. And as with the true spirit of the Renaissance, the only boundaries acknowledged, are boundaries to be crossed. The teacher must be like Pope Julius II was to Michelangelo – he must present a continuing challenge worthy of the artist’s efforts. The student realizes the individual not only can make a difference, but can create a new world if one’s conviction is strong enough. As this historical period was an age of doubt which followed the unquestioning faith of the Middle Ages, so too the adolescent needs to find things out for him or herself.
Doubt and resistance of authority mark a giant step toward self-recreation and individual thinking. Birth in the Renaissance parallels birth in a student’s thinking, feeling and willing.
World geography, which now runs parallel to the history units, takes up the theme of adventurous exploration and covers the whole globe. The children’s knowledge of astronomy is called upon to further their understanding of climate, tides, and other influences on cultural and economic life of the peoples of the earth.
Mechanics begins in physics with the lever principle as found in the human arm. From their experimentation the children learn the basic mechanical concepts and their application in the machinery of ancient and modern times. Inorganic chemistry is introduced as a study of the combustion process. From the beautiful legend of the bringing of fire to earth by Prometheus to a study of combustion in the human organism in the digestive processes, fire can be observed externally in the breaking down of substances by oxidation. Physiology is introduced as the study of life processes in man; blood circulation, respiration, reproduction, and nutrition in connection with digestion, health and hygiene.
Mathematics introduces algebra, including negative numbers, venturing into mathematical thinking that has no relation to physical perceptions. This makes real demands on the child’s imaginative powers. Square and cube root and ratio are introduced. Geometrical perspective and black and white drawing are continued in more complex forms.
The Grade 7 grammar lessons emphasize different styles of writing, use of an outline, paragraph format, self-editing, organization of compositions, note-taking, and the development of compound and complex sentences. The English block of “Wish, Wonder, and Surprise” involves creative writing and literature, but is also designed to bring consciousness, balance and refinement to the adolescent’s emotional life. Students come to see how personal a ‘wish’ is, how it comes from deep within and goes toward the outer world. ‘Wonder’ comes from a meeting between one’s inner and outer world, and ‘surprise’ really originates outside and impresses itself on the individual. It becomes evident that a variety of styles can be employed to convey specific feelings accurately. Bringing consciousness here can also bring confidence and a sense of liberation. For the first time in the English block the students are graded on quizzes, tests, essays, artwork, class participation, and timeliness. Poetry continues to be spoken daily, and oral reports are given to the class. The class play is usually placed in the Renaissance or late medieval times. Independent reading with regular book reports gives the students an opportunity to explore different literature.
Music includes a cappella singing, motets, madrigals, ballads and Renaissance music and individual and group instrumental work. Eurythmy explores poems with contrast, wonder and surprise; ballads with quick dramatic movement, drama and tragedy. In handwork the children sew hand puppets or slippers and learn embroidery. Carving and clay modeling continue.
In Spanish students continue to review vocabulary, conjugate verbs, and accomplish some sophisticated reading in English of the political geography of Latin America. The hope is to present in the future more sophisticated understanding of Latin America, the Moors in Spain, the Irish in Mexico, and slavery in the Caribbean.
The Middle School Dance Program is intended to bring to the students a measure of proficiency, confidence, and cooperation in movement when dancing, and offers a Fall and Spring Middle School Dance. The dances taught include: swing, cha cha, waltz, foxtrot. These dances require partners, which promote a socially healthy exchange between the boys and the girls. The 7th grader continues to learn new and more complicated steps, growing in abilities. In gym additional sporting activities are introduced, while attention is given to perfecting technique and learning through practice. Emphasis is on sportsmanship.
Through this journey, it is most essential that the child has a close friend as well as adults who are enthusiastically saying “yes” to the world. Service projects can be strongly affirmative at this time. Beneath growing layers of negativism, the child must say “yes” to him or herself. This means courage when there’s a tendency to withdrawal. But as one historian noted, “If Columbus had turned back, no one would have blamed him, but no one would have heard of him, either.”