“It Feels Good to Dig In”: Colin Williams on Humanities at Bay

It’s not every day that you get to learn from a teacher that speaks Sanskrit, plays jazz bass and has a deep knowledge of all things history…unless you’re Colin Williams’ student, of course. Colin, who teaches both Humanities and music at Bay, loves sharing his talents in the classroom. Colin with FaithAs he explains, “Teaching Humanities at Bay is my dream job. When I studied Humanities in high school, it absolutely opened me up. Getting to study some serious history and religion, and then getting to see how individuals interacted within those systems through the lens of literature, was amazing. Exploring those connections was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, and now I get to do that with my students.”

One of the best parts about teaching Humanities, Colin says, is using his skills to bring lessons to life for his students. “[When I was teaching 9th grade Humanities,] I was teaching Oedipus and actually used my Classics degree, and when I was teaching about India, I used my Sanskrit! It was really helpful for the students to have access to those important terms in the language that they’re in. When you’re studying religion, you have to use the terms of that religion. If you call a mosque a Muslim church, it just doesn’t work. If you just say pilgrimage and you’re talking about the Hajj, you kind of know what you’re talking about, but it’s the Hajj! You have to call it the Hajj. You need to understand religion in its own terms.”

For the kids in Colin’s classes, picking up the vocabulary they need to speak articulately about what they’re learning is easy. As Colin says, “Because I hear my kids using those terms, I know it’s sticking. Although one kid did say, ‘I have all this Sanskrit in my brain. It’s just taking up disc space!’ But how great is it to hear someone complaining that they know too much Sanskrit?”

This year, Humanities teachers and students are able to go even deeper into important subjects, whether history, religion or literature. “The classic quote is from Jeff [Mezzocchi, Humanities faculty], who said, ‘We’re going so Pit Orchestra Rehearsal 3fast, I feel like some of my students think that Thomas Hobbes is Chinese.’ At most schools, you go lickety-split through all of this history: Alright, here’s medieval China. Here’s Qing China. You barely have time to digest it.” So, to allow students to dig deeper into the history and literature discussed in the Humanities courses, faculty restructured the Humanities 2 program this summer. “We asked ourselves, ‘How can we make this recursive? How can we make this more effective for our students?”

The Humanities faculty came up with one important answer: restructuring the course in a way that emphasized depth over breadth. This new approach is readily apparent in how Humanities 2 students are now investigating religions over time. As Colin notes, “Now, students get three weeks of Islam, compared to maybe two days…we have the time to seriously talk about the biography of Mohammad and his reforms. Students read bigger chunks of the Qu’ran. They’re also acquiring an understanding of Christianity across millennia. We always talked a little about Jesus and his relationship with Judaism, but now we’re talking about that in a lot more detail, and we’re showing Christianity as it struggles in the early Roman Empire, and then as it becomes the dominant system in Europe.” For Colin, restructuring the course was absolutely worth it: “It feels really good to dig in.”

One Reply to ““It Feels Good to Dig In”: Colin Williams on Humanities at Bay”

  1. Keep digging, Humanities colleagues and students! Thank you, Colin, for the wondering, wonderful energy you bring to these studies. Finally, I am glad to hear about the continued growth of BAY’s Humanities program.

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