High school courses in the humanities include Main Lesson Seminars, core courses, and elective offerings in English, History, Social Studies, and related disciplines.

Whether it is the ninth grade literature curriculum with its emphasis on polarities and contrasts of feeling, or the themes of the 11th grade main lessons, which mirror the invisible journey that students of this age experience as they seek for identity, the high school Humanities program addresses Rudolf Steiner’s picture of the inner development of the growing individual. The faculty thus brings relevant topics and images in literature, history and current events that resonate with the inner life of the students at each age and that organically cultivate objective, true reflections on the complexities of today’s world.

Students develop and refine abilities in reading and writing over their high school years. From the study of classics, to the most modern of on-line poetry, students engage in understanding the thoughts and rhetorical forms that have conveyed the truth of human experience through time.

They pursue a wide list of reading requirements for both in-class study and discussion as well as independent reports and research projects. Students learn how to develop responsible research and citation skills, and they practice a variety of writing forms over the course of their high school years: the essay, poetry, creative composition, critical analysis, etc. Extra-curricular publications, such as the literary magazine, The Key, or the Upper School newsletter, “15 East,” showcase the results of this work.

With the emergence of the adolescent period, the young person is ready to develop critical thinking, sound judgement, and a socially diverse appreciation for others. Essential to this is a compassionate understanding for the needs of both the natural and human worlds.  Meeting the demands and challenges that the 21st century places on the education of the adolescent requires considerable insight on the part of teachers. The humanities curriculum at Steiner is founded on meeting these demands and supporting these insights.


English I, II, III, IV (9, 10, 11, 12)

Advanced Literature (11, 12)

Creative Writing (12)

American Literature Seminar (9)

Epic Literature Seminar (10)

History Through Poetry Seminar (10)

Hamlet Seminar (11)

Medieval Literature Parzival Seminar (11)

Romantic Poetry Seminar (11)

Russian Literature Seminar (12)

Muses of Modernism Seminar (12)
Social Studies (9)
The ninth grade Social Studies class meets three times each week and is usually broken into trimester units. Our opening trimester explores Civics through both an in- depth look at our Constitution, and an examination of contemporary events that involve tricky constitutional issues (e.g. gun control, treatment of detainees, voting rights). The second and third trimesters are split between time devoted to working on research, writing, and analysis skills related to the two history main lessons, and smaller project- based units on the genre of oral history and its relation to events of the 20th and 21st centuries, often taught in conjunction with library work and the assistance of the school librarian. Students investigate an oral history archive, such as StoryCorps, and conduct mini-interviews of their own family or others on topics such as race relations in America, major events of the recent past (Vietnam, the Iraq war, etc.). They also undertake the first true research paper of their high school career with short biography of a contemporary revolutionary. This latter project introduces them to the basics of responsible internet and library research, including using footnotes, constructing a bibliography, and avoiding plagiarism.

Social Studies (10)
The tenth grade Social Studies class meets three times each week and is usually broken into trimesters. The main theme of the year, in keeping with main lessons that focus on world civilizations, is current events around the globe, and their relationship to history. During main lesson periods, students use Social Studies class time to delve deeper into the contemporary manifestations of the ancient civilizations we are studying, with particular reference to the Middle East, South Asia, China, and South and Central America. Students also engage in a study of geography that and do geography that deepens their understanding of contemporary cultures and historical trends. Other skills taught include the refinement of research, writing, and public speaking skills. Students conduct research in a subscription database (such as the archives of the New York Times), give class presentations that develop public speaking skills, lean to use presentation software such as PowerPoint, and complete a second research paper based on independent investigation and appropriate documentation of new types of sources. (Note: tenth graders enrolled in science electives or in a foreign language other than Level 2 may confront scheduling conflicts that preclude enrollment in Social Studies 10)

Renaissance & the World History (11)
In this class, students explore the growing forces of globalization by studying a series of movements that contributed to the birth of modern consciousness. The trans- continental empire of the Genghis Khan; the death of the Middle Ages with the Black Plague; the expansion of Islam and its increased contact with the West; various Ages of Exploration (begun by Muslims and Chinese and then advanced by Europeans): we explore how all these spurred the intellectual innovation and achievements of the Renaissance. In this way, students not only study the new world view of Renaissance humanism; they also explore, more broadly, how consciousness of new "New Worlds" in South Asia and South America transformed European religion, politics, commerce, and thought up through the Enlightenment. Students read from a wide variety of primary sources from a variety of times and places—from Machiavelli, the journals of conquistadors and early human rights advocates in the Americas, the writings of Arab geographers and East Indian courtiers, to French enlightenment thinkers such as Rousseau, Montesquieu, and Voltaire. To complement their reading, students also create maps and timelines, and examine art and artifacts. Written work includes short essays that explore the transition to multicultural society: on topics such as globalization, epidemics, technological advance, tolerance, colonization, genocide, and human rights. As always, in-class participation in class discussion also factors into the grade.

Turning Points in World History (12)

20th Century Revolution Seminar (9)
The second main lesson in 20th century history continues the study of social, economic, and political modernization into the cold war era, and is organized around the study of post-colonial revolutions. Students continue reading both primary and secondary documents that examine both broad social movements (e.g. Indian Independence, the South African Freedom Movement, the Vietnam peace movement), and the writings of key players in those events (Gandhi, Mandela, MLK Jr, Thich Nhat Hanh). Students reflect on how and why each revolution happened, and what makes for successful social change. For their main lesson book, students may be asked to summarize in writing an important event discussed in class, such as the rise of Islamic militancy during the Algerian war; or they may be asked to write on excerpts from a specific historical document, such as Gandhi’s writings on non-violence. Nightly work toward the completion of the main lesson book also reinforces class presentation and discussion by engaging students in the creation of creative historical fiction pieces, designed to encourage them to “live into” the time period studies, annotated timelines of key dates, and illustrated maps to reinforce geographical content.

20th Century: The Age of Extremes Seminar (9)
This main lesson in 20th Century History studies the forces that gave rise to the contemporary world as we know it: Imperialism, Communism, Capitalism, Fascism, and the two World Wars. Nightly assignments are organized around essay writing; reading primary and secondary sources; working with geography, historical images and maps; and artistic recreations of historical content. For their main lesson book, students may be asked to summarize in writing an important event or person discussed in class, such as particular leader or stage in the Russian revolution; or to write on an aspects of social movements around race or gender, such as cabaret culture, or prohibition. They may also be asked to write on excerpts from a specific historical document, such as an account of soldier’s diaries from the WWI front in Belgium. Periodic tests test each student’s ability to interpret sources and information by formulating a sustained argument, as well their command of key information in the course narrative, and their ability to place historical events in space.

World Civilization I Seminar (10)
Two tenth grade main lessons on World Civilizations feature a study of how humans faced the challenge of building complex societies in very different geographical situations. World Civilizations I examines prehistoric cultures and the transition to settled civilization in regions such as Africa, South America, the Near East, or Mesopotamia. Students begin by learning how to gather evidence and understand pre- literate societies by examining their material culture (tools, clothing, burial sites, art and artifacts). As the class moves toward examining settled societies with developed forms of written communication, we read primary documents from sources such as epic poems (e.g. Gilgamesh) and the poetry of toher ancient peoples such as the Egyptians. Finally, we examine the birth of warfare and understand how practical questions of economics and competition for resources were intertwined with more spiritual concerns such as communication with the gods and care of the soul after death. Of particular importance is the recent discovery that religion, rather than agriculture or politics, seems to have been the impulse for the first creation of large-scale building projects in South America, Turkey, and elsewhere. Students’ work in the class may consist of writing occasional short essays on their readings, making maps and comparative cross-cultural charts, and writing creative historical fiction and poetry pieces, as well as class discussion.

World Civilization II Seminar (10)
This main lesson, the second of two on world civilizations, continues the study of how humans developed different solutions to the problem of creating complex, functional societies. We continue to explore how civilizations such as those of India, China, South America, or Europe developed unique religious, political, and economic systems for coping with their environment and understanding their place within the cosmos. We also strive to connect an understanding of the origins of these civilizations and their cultures with an appreciation for continued ways in which their unique, and in most cases non-Western heritage continues to shape these regions today. Readings include excerpts from primary texts like the Ramayana, Plato’s Apology, or the writings of Confucius and Lao Tze. Writing for the main lesson book is complimented by drawings, map-making, and in-class experiential learning through meditation and qi-gong work.

Medieval History Seminar (11)
In this main lesson the wider themes and events of this period lasting some nine centuries are presented. The rise of Islam and the indebtedness of the West to Islamic/Arabic culture, as well as the clash of these two cultures in the 11th-13th centuries are discussed and studied through primary documents and lectures. The collapse of the Roman Empire and the ensuing disorder that eventually leads to the rise of Europe and Western culture are of special interest to the adolescent experiencing also levels of disruption and change in their own lives. The monastic communities and the building of the great cathedrals are brought to particular life by team teaching this course with an architect. Students recite in Latin, Anglo-Saxon, and a Scandinavian language, choose an independent research topic, and visit the Cloisters Museum that includes an in depth tour lead by an active researcher into medieval history and art.

Contemporary History Seminar (12)
The purpose of this course, as the third of four aesthetics courses in the Waldorf high school curriculum, is to bring together the various aesthetic and historical studies that have happened over the preceding years within the context of music as not only a performing art but also as an expression of the human being in space and time.