PS/IS 686 | Brooklyn, NY

Grade 7 Humanities: Middle School, Where The Days Are Long and The Years Are Short

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Dear Families,

This year we learned a lot about ourselves, our history, and the world around us.

Our year of scholarship started by re-thinking Christopher Columbus’ life and work. However, our focus was also to illuminate the contributions of The Taino People, whose textbook history has often been rendered invisible. We concluded this study by examining the template of colonial domination created by Columbus and put him on trial in our classroom court of law.


Columbus, himself, opens the trial

Next, we reviewed the growing tensions over political power and economic issues that sparked the movement for independence from Great Britain and the role New York played in the course of the American Revolution. The novel, Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson anchored both our study of the war and of slavery. Art and writing helped us understand plot, setting, and character.


With the Articles of Confederation, we identified its main defining characteristics and determined what led to its ultimate demise and inspired the framers to create The Constitution. We laid the Articles to rest by creating tombstones engraved with epitaphs of what the Articles would have said about itself.


Based on a Mexican Folktale, Steinbeck’s novella, The Pearl, relates the account of Kino, an impoverished pearl diver, his wife Juana, and their infant son Coyotito. We recognized the story not only as a parable, but also as a cautionary tale illustrating the importance of social structures in the lives of individuals as sources of knowledge, strength, and inspiration, contrasted with the corrupting influence of wealth. Illustration and writing accompanied our thought processes during this poignant reading.


Issues of race, class, gender, stereotyping, and beauty shape and harm how we see ourselves. Internal and external expectations manifest themselves in our lives in many ways. Through Sherman Alexie’s often banned novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, we strove to understand what it means to be a Native American in America. Simultaneously, we explored Manifest Destiny, the Trail of Tears, and Mexican Cessation. This unit concluded with multi-genre projects where we worked in groups to study specific Native American tribes who were displaced due to the Indian Removal Act.


Civil Disobedience by American transcendentalist writer, Henry David Thoreau, was first published in 1849. Reading it in 2019, we experienced Thoreau’s disgust with slavery and the Mexican–American War. We marveled at Thoreau’s argument that individuals should not permit governments to overrule or atrophy their consciences. It is chillingly fitting and more than timely that we continue to resist being made agents of injustice by our own government. Writing and performances allowed us to show each other the many ways Transcendentalism can take shape in every day life. We will never forget that law does not always equal justice.


What was it like to be a slave?  We listened to the words and learned about the lives of countless slaves and ex-slaves through Julius Lester’s To Be A Slave. This collection revealed their forced journey from Africa to the United States, their work in the fields and houses of their owners, and their passion for freedom.  We wrote essays and designed memorials to inform the living and honor the dead.

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The American Civil War begged the question: can the use of force preserve a nation? We had to look deep inside human nature to try to fathom the use of violence to create peace, how we could fight our own people, and how we could finally integrate people from all over the world into one country where there actually was liberty and justice for all.

Lastly, civil brawls in Romeo and Juliet and the Civil War pair nicely, and in this unit we examined the potentially dangerous effects stereotypes, sexism, and the choices we make in our lives. We made connections not only to a nation divided by The American Civil War, but also to current events, as our nation revisits past divisions over how to represent our history in public spaces. The annual character study in mask masking was a favorite culminating event to a productive year.


Through history and literature we have been able to  “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” and while I can’t imagine a time in the continuity of human existence when this wouldn’t matter, it seems more important now than ever.

Here are two things I’d like you to remember and practice always:

  • If you ever find that your success is built on the suffering or exploitation of others, change what you are doing.
  • Choose your battles wisely. You will not win them all, so expend your energy winning the ones that matter most.

Thank you for a challenging and rewarding year!

Yours, as ever,

Ms. Sacilotto