The Syllabus (posted on Schoology, available upon request) suggests our path through the study of Modern America in the Viewpoints class. The curriculum does shift from the syllabus sometimes, such as in 2008 and 2012 and 2016, when we spent significant time on the American presidential election.
The Viewpoints Philosophy demands that we consider two axes: along one axis lies content knowledge, critical thinking skills, and academic skills, and along the other engagement and authenticity. We hope to develop something rigorous and enjoyable that taxes your mind and engages your curiosity.
One way we try to plot on the plane defined by these two axes is by breaking down the classroom walls, often by inviting the outside world in. (This caught the attention of Washington Post education maven Jay Mathews, who blogged about the course in a March 2010 column that, unfortunately, seems no longer to be available on the Post archives.)
To accomplish this we always try to arrange visits from guest practitioners -- people in the world at large who can help us ground our studies in actual practice. Past guests have included National Book Award-winning poet Philip Levine (later U.S. Poet Laureate) and best-selling authors Glen David Gold and Lee Child on the literary side, writers and jurists and professors and commentators/journalists/pundits like Michael Lewis, Annie Duke, the Hon. Mary Schroeder, Dan Ariely, Bethany McLean, Helen Gym, Dick Polman, and Michael Smerconish on the social studies side, plus a variety of other excellent local and regional scholars and businesspeople.
An almost-complete list of recent Viewpoints classroom guest speakers/interlocutors -- via visit or conference call:
- 2021: John Avlon, of CNN -- Avlon is the author of several books, including Washington's Farewell, an excerpt of which we use in the VP class
- 2020: Greg Sands, founder and managing partner of tech-focused venture capital firm Costanoa Ventures
- 2019: Don Winslow, author of Power of the Dog and The Border and many other best-selling novels
- 2019: Investor (and VP parent) Jim Clarke joined us to help debrief our evening viewing of the 2015 film The Big Short
- 2019: Annie Duke, decision-science expert, author of best-seller Thinking in Bets, poker champion visited the VP class
- 2018: H.W. Brands, professor and author of the VP classic article "Founders' Chic" (The Atlantic)
- 2017: Dennis Lehane, author of Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, Shutter Island, and many more best-selling novels, and a writer for TV and film, held a conference call with Viewpoints and Mr. Rosin's AP Lang class.
- 2017: Marissa Bluestine (Temple U. professor and legal director for the Pennsylvania Innocence Project) and Montgomery County prosecutor Ed McCann -- three days later, this happened (that's Marissa Bluestine in the photo)
- 2017: Julianne Opet (RHS '04), immigration attorney, and her former client, DACA student Julius Winibono
- 2011 and 2017: Jeff Shesol, author (Supreme Power: FDR vs. the Supreme Court, Mutual Contempt: Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, and the Feud that Defined a Decade), former presidential speechwriter, and New Yorker columnist
- 2016: Prof. Eleanor Barrett, of Penn Law School's Legal and Professional Studies Program (and her daughter), visited the combined class to talk about the Supreme Court, the judicial system, and the currrent SCOTUS nomination argument
- 2016: Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (2012), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and was a finalist for the National Book Award. Click here to see photographs from that conference call.
- 2015: the Hon. Mary Schroeder, federal justice of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, who wrote the opinion on the 1987 case that exonerated Gordon Hirabayashi
- 2012, 2013, and 2014: author and Bryn Mawr College writing instructor Elizabeth Mosier, for a creative writing seminar on using artifacts and primary sources
- 2014, 2011, 2009, and 2007: Glen David Gold, novelist (Carter Beats the Devil, Sunnyside)
- 2013: scholar Lynn Phillips of UMass-Amherst, on gender, cultural hegemony, and the role of women in society
- 2013: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jesse Eisinger (of ProPublica and The New York Times)
- 2012: newscaster and consumer reporter Tracy Davidson (NBC10 TV Philadelphia), who helped assess presentations about gender in society
- 2012: business author Dan Pink (Drive, A Whole New Mind, and the upcoming To Sell Is Human)
- 2012: Pete Howey, entrepreneur (New Hope beverages) and restauranteur (Melt Down Grilled Cheese)
- 2012: Bethany McLean, journalist and author (co-author of The Smartest Guys in the Room and All the Devils Are Here
- 2011: crime novelist Lee Child (The Affair and dozens of other top-selling thrillers)
- 2011: Jonah Lehrer, author (How We Decide, Proust Was a Neuroscientist, The Frontal Cortex blog)
- Kristin Holmes of the Philadelphia Inquirer observed and reported on this conversation (but the link has been archived)
- 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2015: Todd Simkin (with Lauren Laver, 2011), trainer at Susquehanna International Group investment corporation
- 2010: Michael Lewis, author (Liar's Poker, Moneyball, The Big Short)
- 2010: Dan Ariely, professor and author (Predictably Irrational)
- 2009: Col. Howard Gartland, military historian
- 2008: Michael Smerconish, radio and TV commentator and newspaper columnist
- 2008: Doris Brogan, acting dean of Villanova University School of Law
- 2008: Lisa Packer, public relations expert
- 2007: Jim Doughan, expert on complex financial instruments and the math behind them
- 2006: Philip Levine, poet (What Work Is, Ashes: Poems New and Old, Mercy) -- soon to be U.S. Poet Laureate
- 2006: Dick Polman, national political reporter for Philadelphia Inquirer
- 2006: Helen Gym, community activist (Asian Americans United, Parents United for Public Education, Philadelphia Notebook contributor, Philadelphia Inquirer 2007 "Citizen of the Year")
- Multiple times over the years: Sam Holt, longtime RHS teacher and coach and Vietnam War veteran
We are grateful to our guests for offering their time to share in these discussions, and for the intellectual inquiry they model for our students and readers everywhere.
Below are listed some of the Essential Questions we will be considering throughout the year. By definition, an Essential Question requires an in-depth, informed response. What is your response to these questions when you first see them, and then, later in the year, upon re-evaluation?
- When do we work within the system to change it and when do we go outside the system?
- Is change better coming from the top, the bottom, or some combination?
- To what extent are the founding documents flexible?
To what extent is non-conformity a good (realistic?, productive?) thing?
Who is the backbone of the American economy?
- Does government shape or reflect society?
- Is the American Dream a world dream?
- What justifies reaching outside our borders?
- Is there such a thing as an American Literature -- or is there just literature produced by Americans -- and, if so, what are its characteristics?
- How does literature reflect its time?
- How do (and to what extent can) writers help change society and construct a new society?
- How do speakers and writers -- ranging from politicians to poets to propagandists -- develop influence upon their audiences?
- Is it fair to judge people of another time by what we know and understand now, or must we judge them only in context of their time?
- Where is the line between myth and reality?
- What can and should an outsider do to join society?
- To what extent is any given community -- America, a state ("Red"? "Blue"?), a city, a neighborhood, a school, a gender, a race or ethnicity, the people of a given era -- monolithic in their beliefs?
- Are we less innocent than previous generations were, and (if so or not) is that a good or bad thing?
- How is fiction-writing like magic and illusion?
- What is the relationship between the individual and the world-historical?