School Design for Success


History of Bellevue International School

Bellevue International School was the sole creation of six visionary teachers, and has consistently ranked in the top tier of schools nationwide...Read more

History of Kirkland International Community School (ICS)

Kirkland International Community School had no computers the first year, and our students were housed in portables with little shelter from the rain...Yet, by the second year we achieved the highest writing scores on statewide exams...Read more

Humanities Curriculum at Bellevue International School and Kirkland ICS

Quarterly grading periods, winter breaks and summer recesses were mere interruptions in one continuous curriculum...Read more

How Social Promotion Gives a "Pass" to Schools that Fail

Ask any teacher whether social promotion "works", and you will receive a clear answer: It doesn't...Read more

First Test Scores from Bellevue International School and Kirkland International School

These scores were achieved by schools that were untried, built on promises, and which had yet to acquire a reputation for rigor and success...Read more

Creating A Powerful Teaching Culture

If the teaching culture is not transformed, then "school renewal" will be an empty promise...Read more

Making it Better vs. Making it New

"Better" and "different" may sometimes be confused as charter schools describe their mission...Read more

How Marysville Arts & Technology H.S. Began

"We don't have tennis courts. We don't have a gym. We don't have a lot of things," Principal Bruce Saari said. "We do have a small school culture."Read more


Every teacher dreams of creating a classroom where students are excited about making discoveries. Classrooms where careful reading is the standard, not the exception, and where student discussion is lively, well informed, and enthusiastic.

A humanities curriculum that focuses on essential questions and themes--and that provides guidance to teachers along the way--has enormous power to create this kind of classroom culture. When each learning activity is connected to those that have preceded it, students acquire knowledge and confidence as they explore the world's oldest mythic pattern--a pattern that they themselves are living, and that has been re-worked again and again in human artistic products that have been separated by thousands of years and thousands of miles.

This linkage creates confident students who can read critically, analyze, compare, and develop deep insight into the journey of life...And who will want to engage with their classmates and their teacher as they apply lessons learned.

The richness and depth of this curriculum enables it to be used as a stand alone for students at any grade and achievement level, or as the first year of a continuous curriculum that builds upon these themes for four years.

Impact for Students and Teachers...

Students become literary sleuths as they explore the many faces of the monomyth: The source and inspiration for all human storytelling.

Short, high interest works selected for this course present your students with a cumulative and creatively varied re-working of powerful universal ideas: The cycle of life, the testing of the men and women who must journey toward a goal, and the universal human yearning for happiness and freedom. These ideas are not museum pieces or dry academic content. Instead they lead us directly to the core questions all students ask as they undertake their own life journey.

This Curriculum Contains...

This curriculum and its texts are the product of thirty years’ experience teaching the humanities in high performance, nationally recognized public schools grades 6-12. Its contents have been tested with over 5000 secondary school students, each of whom has come to delight in coursework that is rooted in essential concepts to which they return again and again as they develop their analytical and thinking skills.

Selected works are linked together by continuing essential questions, and each builds upon the one that preceded it, preparing the way for the next that is to come.

This linkage answers two challenging questions students often pose: “Why are we doing this?” And: “What does this have to do with me, or anything I care about?"

A thematic humanities curriculum that centers upon universally important questions—rather than one organized by chronology or national location--is best positioned to answer legitimate challenges like these.

Our goal at the secondary level should be to provide high energy experiences that not ony invite analysis and exploration, but that also equip students to engage in meaningful, exciting and personally relevant challenges like these:

Thoughtful reflection about history and progress

Thoughtful reflection about the trade-offs between personal desires and social obligations

Thoughtful reflection about who we are

The ability to read carefully and to make intelligent connections between diverse narratives

And the ability to confidently answer big picture questions such as: How does literature present us with an image of the forces and events that shape human experience, including my own?

The heart of this course is about extracting meaning; about interpretation; about using the comparative mode to read carefully; and about coming to understand the ways that stories from around the world converge around—and reinterpret— universal themes.

An approach like this is what makes the journey through this course both meaningful and purposive for middle school students.

The curriculum provides teachers with insightful guides for six essential myths, nine exciting short stories, two short novels and a variety of poems and prose selections. It details critical discussion questions, coaches teachers on linkages between the selections, and provides detailed background information on issues of special importance that students should be introduced to, and explore, as they read, think, write and discuss. Myths and poetry are provided in the text. Short story, one-act play and novel selections already present in your school resource collection, in your local library, or available on the internet. Up-to-date download links are supplied.

Using these guides (excerpts below), plus unlimited free email consultation and support, teachers easily equip themselves with the knowledge, tools and confidence they need to create exciting classroom experiences.

This middle school curriculum is designed to be one to two year stand alone, as well as a template that teachers can use to develop these themes for a total of four consecutive years of Humanities.

Humanities Curriculum Goals

With Their Teacher's Guidance:

Students acquire a framework for the reading and thinking about literature;

Students identify structural elements (plot, theme, setting) and language use: symbolism, irony, connotation, denotation et al.

Students confirm that fundamental story patterns and themes span and link together cultures and epochs;

Students come to appreciate the unifying metaphor behind all story-telling;

Reading Assessment Targets That Teachers May Establish:

State both literal or inferred main ideas and provide text based support

Use graphic organizers to analyze and compare themes and main ideas in two or more texts

Develop questions before, during, and after reading

Compare/contrast recurring themes; similarities and differences

Examine how an action leads to long-lasting effects

Judge the effectiveness of the author’s use of literary devices and language

Draw conclusions about style, tone, mood based upon language choice

Identify the persuasive effects of vocabulary

Compare the development of an idea or concept in two or more texts

Excerpts From the Teacher Guide:
Discussion Tips, Background & Insights
As Teachers Prepare Each Text

"...Virtually every story that has ever been written features this pattern; and with the emergence of written language that accompanied the birth of civilization, such story-telling continues the tradition of sympathetic magic."

"...Orpheus comes very close to achieving his goal. But he must fail for the very same reason that Isis cannot immortalize the son of the King of Syria, and for the very same reason that Osiris must fit--and must want to fit--into Set's coffin."

"...Stories that feature this pattern not only replicate seasonal cycles, but also re-tell the story of the long and difficult journey undertaken when our ancestors made the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture."

"...It is clear that Daedalus contravenes deep laws, but he does so out of necessity..."

"...Highway 77 is not an Eden. The Dionysiac wildness of the place suggests something other than Ovid's Golden Age. Certainly, Highway 77 represents the world before civilization; or the world we shall return to when nature reasserts domination over the 'city of man': a time when 'roots will have cleft the rocks and made them crumble.' Further, its denizens--not unlike the wild hunters in Golding's Lord of the Flies-- behave recklessly."

"...Yet, if we were to overlay the Greek myth onto the Egyptian, we could ask: If the Poughkeepsie is the River Styx, and if the 'Polacks' are the composite Charon, then do they row Kip to the land of Death, or from Death to Life? From which shore have they embarked, and upon what shore shall they land?"

"...Osiris floats down the River Nile in a coffin; and Kip floats down the Poughkeepsie in a racing shell. Kip has been figuratively slain--for to act as coxswain for the new crew puts Kip in a socially 'dangerous' situation. In this story, the role of the Egyptian god of dessication, Set, would be played by the dread hand of tradition, and by the ethical dilemma posed by Kip's own ambivalence. Mary, his girlfriend, plays the role of Isis—for while Kip's social life in the Ivy League rowing world will probably not be resurrected after his crew's embarrassing defeat, her powerful presence guides Kip, and guarantees that he shall be 'resurrected.'"

"...If Updike's A&P is a symbol for the Garden of Eden, then Lengel must be its Jehovah. Explore with students the parallels that we have been pursuing ever since Level 1. Certainly the 'apple' and the 'temptation' are present here--though we may be invited to consider fancy herring snacks as the new forbidden fruit. An interesting question to pose: do the girls play the role of Eve to Sammy's Adam; or are they the serpent or sirens who lure Sammy to a shipwreck in the parking lot? Remember that while Icarus crashes into the sea, Sammy executes his adolescent swan dive through the electric eye door."

"...We are led, therefore, to question the 'beach.' While it seems to be a paradise of independence and freedom, it may actually represent the world of obligation that all adults must enter. Ulysses and the sirens again. Adam and Eve leave the Garden in order to till the fields and bring forth children in pain; Sammy leaves the store (expulsion) to enter a harsh and indifferent world (heat waves rising up off of car hoods, crying children). As he looks back through the window (remember that Orpheus looked back at Eurydice and lost everything) he discovers the true cost of his gesture. What is more, the girls (like Eurydice) have vanished. At the conclusion of the story, Sammy is doomed to wander the parking lot maze in search of the actual memory--or of the mirage."

"...Regarding the Ovidian myth of history, Ayn Rand positions herself both as a futurist and a capitalist--and she declares war upon collectivist/romantic notions that would return the world to a state of primitive simplicity and love. The world of the Brotherhood seems to be devoted to the Golden Age in that it attempts to suppress the dangers of Ovid's 'Iron Age.' But oddly--and this is central to Ayn Rand's thesis--the means that it employs to regain paradise requires an increase in governmental power, rather than a decrease. This contradiction inverts Ovid's myth of history. And necessarily so, Ayn Rand might add. The myth of the Golden Age is just that: a myth...and its false promises could only be achieved by a resort to fascism or communism. Here, she takes on Plato's Republic and the Lycurgan constitution--and would be in full sympathy with the ideals that Pericles enunciates in his Funeral Oration--the full text of which is reprinted below."

"...But we feel even more sharply that Bradbury's world is a world of limits. The ramp is not to be left; one visits, almost without visiting, the past. What is important—and what must be preserved intact—is the present: the here and now of immediate reality in real time. The "escape" is full of risk, furtive and constraining. In a sense, the journey to the past is a step into the coffin of Osiris: a time machine that whirls those who are lost to the world back through the currents of the river of time. Canute has returned triumphant, and someone must pay for this Pyrrhic victory."

"...How astonishing Bradbury's mix is: we return to Eden; but the act of returning to Eden is a 'temptation' and 'fall' that causes an incredible 'expulsion' (rhymes with explosion!). Dorothy Simple's Primanproper seems rather attractive, when compared to the 'wild roses' of the Jurassic."

Unlimited Free Email Support...

Teachers always take a chance when they try out a new curriculum. Whenever a question arises about implementation, interpretation of a text, or whether or not your students' work is "on track," I am always available to provide assistance to you via email.

Queries from you will always be answered in fewer than 24 hours; and more often than not, within just a few hours after receiving them. I am entirely committed to your success in using this program.

Thematic Humanities Curriculum 6-12:

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