Head-Royce News

The Beautiful Life
Nichole LeFebvre

Two new senior electives are helping students rethink what it means to live in society. 

A college student, on his own for the first time, turns his bedsheets pink in the wash. Another subsists on cereal and ramen. Sound familiar? These tropes in film and TV don’t apply to every young person, of course, but they come from a kernel of truth. Our smart, ambitious graduates leave the nest armed with theories and facts, and, now, two senior electives taught by Paul Scott and Nancy Feidelman are ensuring these students have the practical, hands-on skills needed to be responsible, 21st Century citizens. 

Paul Scott’s year-long class “The Beautiful Life: Civil Society and American Democracy” grew out of his twenty years of working in schools and hearing, again and again, some variation of the phrase, “What will you do in the real world?” If schools don’t exist in “the real world,” he wondered, then where are they? His course, which he likes to call “21st Century Home Ec,” reframes this mindset. “It’s a combination of academic investigation and practical life experiences,” he says. “We read Ibram X. Kendi, and learn about the history of redlining in the Bay Area––and the extent to which systemic racism has impacted what we call home. Then, what are the ways we can engage in anti-racist work, through local politics or where we spend our money? There’s a new imperative to be a more just consumer, for instance.” 

Making jam, building a planter box, and stripping kale for pesto are a few of his lessons, which he developed with Division Coordinator Keri Keifer, who also runs a catering business. "The general attitude was you don’t do this at school, you do this at summer camp,” says Paul. But why? “We read a bunch, early-on, about schools––bell hooks, Paulo Freire––on democratizing schooling and liberation pedagogy,” Paul says. “The class represents a new idea about schooling.”

In the fall, students designed their ideal school: they wrote a mission statement, built a curriculum, and designed a campus. One group of seniors––Ella P., Anya K., Eliza E., Kallie H., and Lali G.––set their school outside of Seattle, allowing students to “connect with nature while simultaneously being immersed in a cosmopolitan environment.” Their dream campus, made up of 60% farmland, houses a “commercial bean farm, a nod to pushing the boundaries of Pythagoras and traditionalism.” A sample class blends economics and hands-on work: “The farm is an opportunity to learn about running a sustainable local business, the supply chain, and the agriculture industry,” they write, noting that students will meet with local grocery stores about stocking their school-grown bean products. Those of you remembering the Master Plan might see this dream lesson as a not-so-distant possibility on our South Campus. 

Another project, in response to the Coronavirus and the wildfires, asked students whether their homes were ready for an emergency. Each student conducted a home audit and learned the importance of being neighborly. 

“You can stockpile everything you need for your little family, but that might not do it,” says Paul Scott. “If our systems go down for an extended period of time you need to reach out for help. You’ll be better at that if you’ve practiced. So everytime we do a project––we made plum jam, we made marmalade––I remind them to make enough to share it. Why not go knock on your neighbor’s door and leave a jar? Real local organizing is what that is.” 

Nancy Feidelman’s new senior elective “Issues to Action” also focuses on local organizing and encourages students to understand, respect, and embrace the communities in which they live. 

“It’s an academic offering coming out of the Center for Community Engagement,” says Nancy, who directs the CCE. “It gives students just enough of a scholarly foundation on community impact with compelling texts that help us create a collective understanding and a deep respect for those who have already been working on the issue. We’re coming in to learn, not to solve.” 

The course empowers students to begin the long process of understanding a societal issue––the climate crisis or racial injustice, by reading Paul Hawken and Alicia Garza, for example––and getting involved in the local organizations working on the solution. “I am particularly interested in housing equity and the economic disparities in our country,” says Saman A. ’21. “In this class, we have read texts and discussed how these issues came to fruition and what important work is being done to combat their detrimental effects, especially at a community level.”  

When designing the course, Nancy returned to one question: “How can we help students feel they’re doing real work that matters?” As Director of the CCE, Nancy “love[s] working with students on imagining how they might follow-through on their interests. Some kids want more intellectually-based research work that leads them to connect with local think tanks and policy institutes. Others might pursue community organizing around voter registration or food collection. In general, this course helps students identify where and how they want to have impact at this stage in their lives.”  

As the Class of 2021 prepares to leave the Head-Royce nest, they’re “about to enter a place where they can study anything,” says Nancy. “To have an articulated foundation of what matters to them, and why, and then some practice acting on those interests––that’s an incredible guide.” 

These students will arrive at college with an awareness of how their school sits within and therefore impacts intersecting communities. “We have this notion, and I share it,” says Paul Scott, “ that there’s school and then there’s life. School is life. Head-Royce is part of the community. You don’t just go onto campus and you’re in a separate space. Everything we do impacts our community. We should acknowledge that and act accordingly.”

More School News