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Required Courses | Electives | Online Electives

Required Courses

Human Crossroads: Confronting Global Challenges through Time, Identity and Place

Human Crossroads asks students to respond to some of the world's greatest challenges using an interdisciplinary approach that draws from the intersection of geography, history, anthropology, and sociology. The curriculum is composed of units dedicated to central thematic questions ranging from the meaning of human identity to the value of borders, the possibility of religious pluralism, and vexing problems of global inequities. Each unit starts by asking, "what is where, why there, why care?" using maps. Course material and projects include current events, academic texts, online resources, and data visualizations. Students learn to read actively, analyze maps, interpret data, write thesis-driven essays, and synthesize information, with according skill-based assessments. This class is not only intended to develop academic skills, but to foster curiosity, self-reflection, global citizenship, and a renewed commitment to the pursuit of truth, love, and justice in the world.

The Modern World

First, the good news: many people alive today are better off than all other humans who have preceded them. That may not surprise you. But, the bad news will: many others alive today are actually worse off than their predecessors. That includes medieval serfs, African tribesmen, and even prehistoric cavemen! How can this be? The modern world, loosely defined as the last two centuries of human life, has witnessed some of the most dramatic transformations in our history. Yet, those transformations have often functioned as a double-edged sword, bringing great reward to some and devastation to others. Why did these changes occur in the first place? Why did certain countries and people benefit while others suffered? And what does this say about the world we live in now, and where we're headed in the future? This course endeavors to answer those questions through a wide-ranging study of the last 200+ years, from the Industrial Revolution through to the present.

United States History

While chronological, this course focuses on several themes that have reverberated throughout the American experience. The central theme is the epochal tug-of-war between Jefferson’s credo of equality and its paradoxical partners: conquest, slavery, and racism amidst a diversity of historic proportions; gender discrimination; and the class inequalities generated within a dynamic economy. Accordingly, we will pay significant attention to the history of movements that challenge the dominant meaning of equality, such as labor unions, suffragists, and the multitude of civil rights movements across time. The nation’s history is also traced through the tensions between a deep-rooted fear of centralized power and the drive for an efficient and powerful federal government. Lastly, significant time is given to U.S. involvement in global affairs, with a particular stress on presidential decision-making, and its impact both abroad and at home. While classic political issues are at the core of the course, there are times—such as the era between Reconstruction and World War I—when the magnitude of cultural and economic changes are at the heart of an era. We will use a very wide range of primary and college-level secondary sources.




New Media Studies

This collaborative yearlong course combines study of print media history, news in the digital age, and core journalistic skills while allowing students to practice writing for an audience as the CatlinSpeak staff. CatlinSpeak is an award-winning online news magazine and print newspaper that is designed, written, and published by 10th to 12th grade students. The first six weeks focus on learning the fundamentals of journalistic writing, understanding the historical arc of journalism, and becoming comfortable with online tools such as Twitter and Wordpress, which are used by news sites around the world. Students gain applied skills such as layout, blogging, vlogging, and news tweeting as well as the crafting of story budget lines, leads, op-eds, blurbs, features, photo essays, and graphics. The staff members work as a team to produce daily written and video content for the website and quarterly print editions. In addition, students research, discuss, and write about current events from around school to around the world.

New Media Studies II (honors level)

This course runs simultaneously with New Media Studies, but requires more responsibility, vision and leadership. Two or three students are chosen every year to participate at the honors level and manage the CatlinSpeak staff as editors. Duties include running meetings, tracking deadlines for multiple staff members, working with staff to grow ideas into publishable material, having an extra weekly meeting with course advisors, advertising to the school and larger community, assisting in creating course content, and staying apprised of the latest trends in digital and print media. On occasions, honors students are required to organize public events such as the two mayoral debates hosted by CatlinSpeak in 2012. Enrollment is by consent of instructors.

Fall Semester 

Economics (Honors Level)

How can we create and measure economic growth? What is the value of a dollar? What is the value of an ocean? What does economic justice look like? Do taxes inhibit or facilitate prosperity? Why did the housing market collapse in 2007, and what is the best way to respond to this problem? This course introduces students to the economic tools and reasoning required to address these—and many other—sophisticated contemporary questions, and to help inform student choices as consumers, workers, and citizens. Both national and international contexts will be engaged, often using readings from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Economist to examine economic events and debates. This course is open to juniors and seniors.

Globalization: Debates & Controversies (Honors Level)

Globalization is both a process and a state of being. We can see that the world is swiftly becoming ever more interconnected: blueberries from Chile, BlackBerrys from China. It is also a way of thinking: we know we are connected to people in China, India and elsewhere in new ways and we therefore think about our role in the world differently. Globalization occurs at the level of economics, politics, culture, and the physical environment; it can be resisted but it is undeniably shaping our lives. In this semester-long course, we will examine the ways in which globalization is taking place before moving on to a more experiential, cooperative project. First, we will look at the way the global economy works by learning about the World Trade organization and other such global bodies. We will examine the processes of outsourcing and offshoring, thinking about how they affect lives everywhere, and consider the debate between seeing these and other changes as “globalization” or “Americanization.” Then we will turn to the issue of climate change, a vexing global issue that demonstrates the intimate interplay between nations, peoples, institutions, and cultures. But rather than simply decrying the situation, we will sustain our focus, looking at solutions. What are Catlin Gabel, Portland, the State of Oregon, the USA, and the “global community” doing to stem climate change, what’s working and how can we push policy in the right direction? Students will meet with local leaders and take part in policy debates on this current and vital issue.

Palma Scholars Seminar: Measuring Success—The Analytics Revolution (Honors Level)

What does it mean to be successful? How can we measure that success and track improvement over time within a specific field? What are the keys to taking a good product and making it great? And how can a team function most cohesively, ensuring that, through effective collaboration, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts? This course will develop tools for defining and measuring success through the fields of Sports Analytics, Educational Theory, Business, and Psychology, before ultimately formulating strategies by which individuals and organizations can elevate themselves from good to great.

Transitional Justice (Honors Level)

How can a country, scarred by genocide, ever recover and regain a sense of normalcy? How can two rival factions, each guilty of committing horrible atrocities against the other, ever learn to live together in peace again? How can victims of torture rebuild their internal worlds while their external circumstances remain equally fractured? This course studies the field of transitional justice, through which countries and the international community endeavor to move from chaos to stability, to punish the guilty, to document the historical truth, and to help the victims heal. Subjects include the Holocaust and the experience of surviving German Jews after the war, apartheid-era South Africa and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the Argentine military dictatorship and the struggle to find children kidnapped from the government's victims. People interested in law, history, international relations, human rights, and current events will be interested in this class. This course is open to seniors.

Spring Semester

9/11 (Honors Level)

September 11, 2001, was a tragedy that must be understood on multiple levels. Locally, it radically altered New York City, leaving physical and psychological scars. Nationally, it shook a superpower, prompting widespread fear, confusion, and new policies that highlighted the tension between freedom and security. Internationally, it rewrote diplomatic relationships, launching the War on Terror and spurring many human rights concerns. While 9/11 was a starting point for all of this, it was also an endpoint, the product of decades of global transformations. This class situates 9/11 where it belongs, at the center of an extended narrative, amidst the contemporary trends of post-imperialism, globalization, and terrorism. This course is open to seniors.

The Constitution in American Life and Society (Honors Level)

This course is an investigation of the US Constitution as a document active in American lives past and present. By examining constitutional debates, judicial decisions, and through a close reading of the Constitution itself, students will consider issues from the balance of power between the branches of government, the right to declare wars, and civil rights. We will study historical issues in depth, such as the background to and creation of the Constitution and key cases, including Brown v. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade. Students will also research, debate, and write essays on a number of current constitutional debates—including cases now and soon to be before the Supreme Court, including campaign finance, same-sex marriage and government surveillance programs. The semester is capped with a creative assignment in which students will use video, audio, a graphic novel or some other medium to share their research on a contemporary constitutional issue. This course is open to seniors.

Economics of the Innovation Revolution: Making, Coding, and Failing

This course will begin by defining and exploring the “Innovation Revolution” by reading course texts and conducting case studies of the fastest growing companies in Portland who are “making, coding and failing” their way to success. Students will then connect with local makers, coders and risk takers to write biographies on local innovators, while identifying the skills and business practices needed to run a profitable company that makes, codes and fails. Teacher and student will work together as learners to develop their making, coding, and failing skills in partnership with organizations like ADX Portland, Code Scouts and local startup incubators. Teacher and students will build online portfolios to showcase their skill development and apply these skills sets by developing a product, service or company by the end of the course. Student portfolios will be graded by the teacher and by peers based on process, progress, and collaboration. Course texts will include: Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur, Creative Confidence by Tom and David Kelly, The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, and Makers: The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson. This course is open to sophomores, juniors and seniors.

Palma Scholars Seminar: Sports and Human Rights (Honors Level)

We are living through a stretch in which a number of dubious regimes host major international athletics competitions—the Beijing Summer Olympics, the Sochi Winter Olympics, Qatar's World Cup, among others. Of course, this isn't new; Nazi Germany famously hosted the 1936 Olympics while Argentina's military dictatorship celebrated that country's home-field championship in the World Cup. To what extent does bringing international competitions to problematic states promote the cause of human rights and political freedom? Do these events spur economic development that is beneficial to all? Those competitions serve as a jumping-off point for a broader examination of the intersection of sport and human rights throughout the world in the 20th and 21st centuries. How can sport serve as a vehicle for social change and justice, and under what circumstances does it reenforce elite interests?


Global Online Academy

Fall Semester

9/11 in a Global Context 

September 11, 2001 was a tragic day that changed the world in profound ways. In this course students will explore the causes of 9/11, the events of the day itself, and its aftermath locally, nationally, and around the world. In place of a standard chronological framework, students instead will view these events through a series of separate lenses. Each lens will represent a different way to view the attacks and will allow students to understand 9/11 as an event with complex and interrelated causes and outcomes. Using a variety of technologies and activities, students will work individually and with peers to evaluate each lens. They will then explore the post-9/11 world and conclude the course by planning their own 9/11 memorial.

Applying Philosophy to Modern Global Issues 

This is an applied philosophy course that connects pressing contemporary issues with broad-range philosophical ideas and controversies, drawn from multiple traditions and many centuries. Students will use ideas from influential philosophers to shed light on recent political events such as the global economic downturn and the sweeping revolutions of the Arab Spring, as well as new developments in fields as diverse as biology, cognitive science, and political theory. In addition to introducing students to the work of philosophers as diverse as Confucius and Martin Heidegger, this course also aims to be richly interdisciplinary, incorporating models and methods from diverse fields including history, journalism, literary criticism, and media studies.

Genocide and Human Rights 

Students in this course study several of the major genocides of the 20th century (Armenian, the Holocaust, Cambodian, and Rwandan), analyze the role of the international community in responding to and preventing further genocides with particular attention to the Nuremberg Tribunals, and examine current human rights crises around the world. Students will read primary and secondary sources, participate in both synchronous and asynchronous discussions with classmates, write brief papers, read short novels, watch documentaries and develop a human rights report card web site about a nation in the world of their choice.


In this course, students will learn fundamental economic concepts, which will enable them to develop economic ways of thinking and problem-solving skills that they will be able to use in their lives—as consumers, savers, members of the work force, responsible citizens and effective participants in the global economy. Students will deepen their understanding of basic microeconomic theory through class discussion and debate, problem solving, and written reflection. Students will also engage in a stock market simulation. As a culminating activity, students will develop their own business proposals based on sound economic rationale and theory and "pitch" the idea to their classmates for venture capital funding.

This We Believe: Comparative Religions 

A theme-based comparison of the world's religions yields a deeper understanding both of the diversity of perspectives in our global population and of the truth that is within all traditions. Students in this course will develop a more sophisticated understanding of human beliefs and practices, and learn to engage in effective and productive collaboration with peers around the world. After establishing a foundational knowledge of “the Big Five”: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, we will then apply a thematic approach, exploring specific characteristics of religion through the lenses of various faith traditions.

Spring Semester


Comparative Politics 

In 2012, the Economist issued a report entitled “Democracy at a Standstill.” This course uses the comparative model to ask students to consider whether democracy is in fact at a standstill, but more importantly, if and why we should care? By looking at current events, reading scholarly research, analyzing data, conducting personal interviews and engaging in a series of debates, students will constantly re-evaluate their own beliefs and understandings about how power should be distributed and utilized.

Gender Studies 

This course uses the concept of gender to examine a range of topics and disciplines that might include: feminism, gay and lesbian studies, women’s studies, popular culture, and politics. Throughout the course students will examine the intersection of gender with other social identifiers: class, race, sexual orientation, culture, and ethnicity. Students will read about, write about, and discuss gender issues as they simultaneously reflect on the ways that gender has manifested in and impacted their lives.


In this course students will study macroeconomic theory as it relates to domestic and global policies on employment, national income, government spending, and the impact of foreign spending on domestic economies and foreign exchange markets. Students will use real world events and data as case studies in order to develop a better understanding of the driving forces behind domestic and international macroeconomic markets. In the final portion of the course, students will have the opportunity to develop their own solutions to a local/global issue of their choice (such as poverty, environmental pollution, and limited access to education) based on their new understanding of macroeconomic theory.