One of the most challenging and rewarding academic experiences of the 10th grade is the Culture Paper. In their U.S. History and Culture class, sophomores have an opportunity to identify something of interest to them and examine it in its historical context. They can choose any cultural product that was created in the United States, at any time in the nation’s history. This can be anything, as some of this year’s topics demonstrate:
- Uncle Tom’s Cabin
- The Space Needle
- The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle
- The Birth of a Nation
- Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood
- The Flintstones
- Are You Experienced
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
. . . and many more!
Students don’t just write reports on things they enjoy; they must analyze how these things belong to a specific time in the nation’s history. This takes research! Forest Ridge subscribes to academic databases (such as EBSCO, JSTOR and ProQuest) that invite students to search for substantial articles. Each student writes a well-documented research paper supported by in-text citations and a Works Cited list.
When this assignment is first presented to students they often doubt that they will be able to do this kind of higher-level analysis, or that “fun” music, books, film or television can bear such academic scrutiny. But by the end of the year, the students and I are deeply impressed by the quality of work they have created and its thoughtfully crafted analysis. Wow!
By examining their chosen topics closely, students see connections for the first time. The Sound of Music suggests Cold War global tensions and a reaction against feminist demands. The Wizard of Oz springs from the experiences of the Great Depression. And Barbie . . . well, she has her own story to tell.
Reflecting on this experience, students often say that the Culture Paper was their most significant accomplishment in history class. Each student strengthens her ability to receive feedback and revise an ongoing project. By the end of the year, students remark that they never would have believed that they could have produced such a paper.
It is great to see that each student completing sophomore year at Forest Ridge is ready to take on the research challenges of the next two years, culminating senior year in the AIS (capstone) project of her choice.