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Senior Inquiry Themes

2015-2016 Senior Inquiry Themes

The Portland State University Senior Inquiry program partners with four area High Schools - Jefferson, Liberty, Roosevelt and Westview - to deliver a unique interdisciplinary curriculum. This year's themes are as follows.

The human animal is considered to be both a part of and yet distinct from nature. This relationship between our human selves and the natural world we inhabit is complicated and perplexing. This theme explores the complex connections between humans and nature. In what ways are we humans "natural"? Is there such a thing as human nature, and if so, what is it? How are we related to nature and our larger natural surrounds? How have we described and represented nature to ourselves? How have humans over the course of time understood and interacted with the natural world? How have our understandings of nature changed? Do humans have unique responsibilities toward the natural world and if so, what are they? Over the course of the year we will attempt to answer these questions, drawing on the resources of the social and biological sciences, history, literature and the arts.

Race and Social Justice
Most people in the United States value equality of opportunity. In reality, however, our social and economic system perpetuates various inequalities, including inequalities between socially defined racial groups. Gunnar Myrdal, an architect of the Swedish social welfare system, wrote in 1955 that this "American Dilemma" would ultimately prevent the United States from building a society that would successfully put its values into action. He warned that if existing racial inequalities were not addressed, it would undermine our sense of shared identity and our moral purpose as a nation. This course will seek to address Myrdal's "American Dilemma" on two levels. First, we will study biology that undermines the concept of race itself; sociology that defines the concept as socially constructed; history that is not acknowledged in standard K-12 texts; and literature that opens a diversity of windows onto the experience of race. This knowledge can help students to move past stereotypes and appreciate the experience of people in other groups more deeply. Second, students will be welcomed into opportunities for personal reflection on their own social position and on the privileges and challenges that come their way simply because of the identities they hold. Thus, through both increased knowledge and personal reflection, students can develop capabilities useful to the work of moving U.S. society past its racial dilemma.

Knowledge, Art & Power
An investigation into the nature of knowledge, its expression in many media, and its relationship to (and conflicts with) powers within society. This course will examine the creation and expression of ideas in many artistic forms--visual arts, music, film, literature, theater-- each with its unique language, at once independent from each other and interdependent with each other. Students will investigate the dynamic interplay of the arts, and the role played by governments and other powers in the creation or suppression of knowledge. Issues to be covered include official and political art, censorship, documentaries vs. propaganda, scientific discovery, and intolerance.