Urban expands curriculum with new multidisciplinary classes

With the addition of two new multidisciplinary classes for the fall of 2018 to its already diverse catalog, Urban is pushing students to experiment with yet another style and structure of learning.

Both Rethinking Poverty and Global Migration: Who, Where, Why will be offered next year. They blend science, history, geography and intercultural studies to deepen students’ understanding of these topics. While they aren’t the first multidisciplinary classes in the Urban course catalog, they are the first multidisciplinary options available to students outside of their Senior Spring trimesters. The already existing multidisciplinary classes, California Studies (Cal Studies) and Research and Action Project (RAP), similarly blend disciplines to study everything from San Francisco’s sewers to writing a well-researched and supported thesis or final paper.

Cal Studies was one of Urban’s first multidisciplinary classes. It is structured differently than other Urban classes in order to achieve its goal of educating students about the water systems in California through field trips and real-life applications. Cal Studies is held annually during two periods (AD or BC) in the spring trimester. It is also only available to seniors.

“The whole point [of the class] is to be taught by experts in the field, not just Urban teachers,” said Lars Delin (‘18), a senior currently taking Cal Studies. “ [It] speaks to the mission of Urban and the core value of learning outside of the classroom.”

“[Cal Studies is] very real world and is focused on what people are doing with their educations.” Geoff Ruth, Urban Academic Dean, said.

One of Urban’s new classes, Rethinking Poverty, draws from the expertise of Dan Matz, Urban history teacher, and Mary Murphy, Urban science teacher, who together have over 40 years of teaching experience. This class will delve into how poverty is shaped by historical, social, scientific and economic forces.

“Cal Studies is very innovative… this class is a different configuration of that same spirit and philosophy,” Murphy said.

Similarly, the new Global Migration class is an option for students to earn one of the four service credits required for graduation. This class delves into more current politics such as climate change and attempts to “humanize the immigration debate,” according to its class description on the Urban School website. One of the few Urban classes that involves geography and mapping, this class is an option for juniors and seniors to explore historical movements and service work in a new discipline. This class will span across history, geography and service learning disciplines.

While these classes are unique to Urban, many students have expressed anxiety about completing their graduation requirements or UC credits for college. Additionally, students have expressed concern that they won’t be able to fulfill their necessary department requirements by taking one of these classes. “[The requirements] are not a significant consideration for most kids,” said Ruth. “Most students are easily able to fill the UC requirements and there is still a lot of space for students to take other classes.” Since each Urban class counts as half of a credit, and requirements within departments are limited, Ruth encouraged students to explore multidisciplinary classes. “These classes can tackle real issues by being able to span disciplines,” Ruth said.

Urban students signed up for classes on March 30th and will receive their schedules for next year before summer of 2018. New classes such as Rethinking Poverty and Global Migration will both run fall of 2018 and were popular choices with 31 students signing up for Rethinking Poverty as a first choice and 24 students signing up for Global Migration. Urban teachers and administrators have expressed their desire for more multidisciplinary classes. Ruth spoke in support of multidisciplinary classes and said, “Nowhere else except in school do you encounter a topic that is entirely explored within the narrow bucket of one discipline.”