The humanities form the backbone of a Deerfield education. Four years of English classes provide a continuous, structured experience throughout students’ time at Deerfield, and graduation requirements in each subject ensure a well-rounded education. Across all of the humanities – English, history, foreign language, and philosophy and religion – the emphasis is on the coherent expression of ideas both in written and verbal forms. Classes are small, and teachers facilitate lively discussion in a seminar setting. Through the depth of discussion, students learn to examine their world critically by asking questions and accounting for a variety of cultural, philosophical, and historical perspectives. In this way they can not only better understand the subject matter, but also better understand their own way of thinking.
Deerfield’s humanities classes follow the organization of the curriculum as a whole, as a structured foundation acquired in students’ early years leads to more flexibility with numerous elective opportunities later on. This structure means that all students receive the same essential teachings about the fundamentals of the humanities – whether it is how to read and annotate carefully, how to form a cogent thesis, or how to learn and incorporate new sentence structures in a foreign language. From there, students can pursue classes with subject matter that appeals to their specific interests, and dive deeper into more focused topics. Many classes, particularly those in the upper-levels, end with a final “culminating experience” that consists of a long-term project, in which students narrow their focus onto a single element of their course, using what they have learned throughout the term to unearth new and original insights. While projects such as these are largely individual, teachers provide the appropriate amount of guidance to ensure that students get the most out of their experience.
The humanities faculty varies greatly in their level of experience, from faculty who have spent fifty or more years teaching to teaching fellows just out of college, but all share a love of teaching and a desire to impart their knowledge to a new generation of students. They guide discussions from within, and strive to create an atmosphere conducive to the open sharing of ideas. Ultimately, the classroom experience depends on the students, but Deerfield’s teachers set a positive tone.