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The objective of this course is to deepen students’ understanding of civic values and the role these play in shaping an equitable and just society. Seminar sessions invite students to grasp the complexity of such values within a pluralistic society, inviting them both to deepen their critical understanding of their own viewpoints on contested ethical questions and to broaden their capacity to engage others who might hold different views in a constructive manner.


In the first months we will read a variety of texts that formulate visions of a just society, including The Declaration of Independence, The Communist Manifesto (1848), the Seneca Falls’ Declaration of Sentiments (1848), and excerpts from the Port Huron Statement of the Students for a Democratic Society (1962). Such readings will prepare students to draft a “manifesto” of their own followed by a common “manifesto” written as a class. Seminar sessions will require students to examine their personal convictions and viewpoints in a critical and constructive manner, sharpening their understanding in conversation with historical texts that have played a formative role in shaping modern society. This work calls upon the skills of close and critical reading of such sources as well as developing the capacity to listen and respond to those—in the seminar or in the broader society—holding differing beliefs and approaches. The overall goal is that of strengthening students’ grasp of what is at stake in complex and disputed social questions while enhancing their ability to engage others, with empathy and insight, who might hold different views to their own.


Students will submit short critical responses each week to questions related to readings or topics under discussion. They will also complete two larger projects during the year: first, a formulation of their own “manifesto,” written in conversation with sources studied and discussed in the seminar; and, second, a final paper on a topic of their choice that explores a disputed question in the field of social ethics. This capstone project should both draw on their own experience and reflect their broader educational aims and vocational interests. The values of Watershed School as expressed in the school’s mission statement together with the essential foundational skills identified by the faculty provide the context for such work.