The 2009 AGS Curriculum

Students attending AGS are selected on the basis of their abilities and interests in a particular intellectual discipline or field known as Special Aptitude Development (Area I).

In keeping with the School’s aim of developing competencies in the use of theory to understand, manage, and integrate knowledge, each student also pursues classroom work and reading in two other areas: General Conceptual Development (Area II) and Personal and Social Development (Area III). The curricula in Area II and Area III are identical for all students.

Table of Contents

Area I: Arts            Tom McDonald, Area Coordinator

Choral Music                                                                           Drama
Bill Higgins                                                                 Morgan Hicks
Rachel Schrag                                                            John Smith

Instrumental Music                                                               Visual Arts
Tom McDonald, Conductor                                            Jason McCann
Rick Dimond                                                               Jessica Peterson
Gerry Gibson
Denis Winter

Area I: Academics            Stacy Key, Coordinator

English/Language Arts                                                         Natural Science
Wesley Beal                                                                              Tommie Henderson
Norma Hargraves                                                                      Nick Seward
Mattew Forester                                                                      Katie Pratt
Dan Kostopulos                                                                       Katie Speights

Social Science                                                                        Mathematics
Raphael Lewis                                                            Stacy Key
Robert Low                                                                Lars Seme
Kondwani Phwandaphwanda                                          Josh Ulrey
Peggy Scranton

Area II: General Conceptual Development            Mark Elrod, Coordinator
Alex Anderson                                                             Evan Rogers
Bryan Cwik                                                                 Phillip Spivey
Revis Edmonds                                                            Jim Rush
Michael Simeone

Area III: Personal and Social Development            Phillip Melton, Coordinator
April Gentry-Sutterfield                                                Katie Rose
Fred Boosey                                                              Spencer Sutterfield
Richard Gobble                                                           Chad Terrell
Debbie Hibbs



Morgan Hicks and John Smith
The Drama students in the 2009 Arkansas Governor’s School will explore the current direction of contemporary theatre through a survey of major genres of theatre history.  Students will examine classic and contemporary texts through an acting format designed to create a fundamental understanding of period styles as well as an overview of character analysis. This rigorous course will be challenging but always fun, and the students should be prepared to engage themselves intellectually, artistically, and physically while they improve stage skills like presence, focus, leadership, team work, commitment, and communication. 


Bill Higgins and Rachel Schrag
AGS Chorale is a class specializing in the rehearsal and performance of modern choral music.  Though generally a performance-oriented class, general musical studies will be presented alongside the rehearsal of modern repertoire. The class will include a discussion of current musical trends, basic studies in theory and score analysis, and issues regarding language and poetry.  The overall objective is development and appreciation of choral singing as an artistic expression.


Tom McDonald, Rick Dimond, Gerry Gibson, and Denis Winter
The AGS 2009 students in Instrumental Music will be involved in rehearsing and performing works of prominent 20th century composers.  Focus is directed exclusively on 20th century music, styles of composing and circumstances surrounding the birth of these styles.  Issues such as color, texture, melody, harmony, rhythm, and meter will be addressed in reference to each style and work.  Excellence in performance is something that individuals and groups always strive for; however, it is the process of learning music and understanding the creative process of composing music in a specific 20th century style that is of prime importance in our performing ensemble.  This knowledge and expertise will allow students to share with students in other Area I disciplines.  The discussions and lectures in Perspectives feature faculty and student presentations, discussions, and listening sessions which deal with significant music and musical trends of the 20th century and with challenges in the performing arts in the 21st century.  The combination of ensemble performance and Perspectives classes at AGS is aimed at opening the students' minds to the incredibly vast world of music, both to its composers and its styles.


Jason McCann and Carey Voss
The focus of the Visual Arts program at AGS is to develop student artwork in terms of concept and content.  Students will be encouraged to explore the process behind their artistic product in a variety of techniques and materials, guided by instruction and critique of art and theory through the ages.  The hope is that students will acquire an understanding of how working artists achieve consistency and continuity in a large body of work.




Introduction to Cultural Studies - Wesley Beal
What is culture?  The term is vexing, often described as among the hardest words to define in the English language.  There are several possible approaches to this subject, ranging from anthropology’s study of customs and practices to sociology’s reliance on statistics, but for the purposes of this course we will interrogate culture as a text for our own analysis.  In other words, we will be applying our literary tools toward the interpretation of culture.

The questions we investigate on a daily basis will sweep broadly under the ever-broad rubric of culture, observing the various and often conflicting uses and meanings of the culture concept.  We will start by exploring the very ideas of culture and literature, then familiarize ourselves with various theoretical approaches to the culture-text, and along the way study specific examples of those texts—Hendrix campus architecture, commercial advertisements, Disney theme parks, and works of propaganda, to name a few.  Finally, we will turn our attention to the ephemeral community of AGS and its prominent position in the Arkansas front of the culture wars as material for our introduction to cultural studies.

The Power of Language - Matt Forester
Imagine a world where no human has ever been able to communicate with another human. In this imaginary world, there is no language, no facial expressions or physical gestures that can be interpreted. In short, there is no way to convey an idea from one mind to another. Perhaps humans could never survive in such a communicationless world. If such an existence were possible, though, what would humans count as knowledge? What would we value? What would we believe?

This course examines the role of language in the constitution of human subjects, focusing specifically on ways that language functions to establish and maintain systems of privilege and oppression. We will examine the work of critical theorists and post-structuralist theorists whose work offers insights into what some call “the discursive formation of subjectivity.” We will analyze the language of politicians, activist groups, social institutions, as well as our very own Governor’s School community. We will watch and analyze films and conduct experiments in which we invent and deploy rhetorics or systems of language and thought that function to empower some and disempower others. The ultimate goal of this course is to help students become critical of the rhetorics that are always working to persuade or dissuade all of us in the struggle for hegemony.

Poetry: Experiences and Possibilities - Norma Hargraves
This course will expand understanding about poetry by looking closely at how poems are put together, what influences them, and the techniques poets use to give their poems energy. In-class readings will span from the traditional to the innovative, from the highly structured forms to the edgiest contemporary forms. The class will include writing exercises that focus on image, voice, structure, and context.

Dan Kostopulos
Contemporary Short Story has two objectives.  First, students will discuss the nature and history of the short story as a form of fiction and then read a variety of stories published during the last forty years by familiar American authors such as Tim O'Brien, Richard Ford, Alice Walker, Raymond Carver, and Cynthia Ozick, as well several writers who are perhaps less familiar to young readers.  Specifically, students will examine how these short stories reflect the changing dynamics of contemporary American culture with respect to significant historical events, gender, race, class, nationality, and a variety of other social and cultural issues.  Students will read the stories in class, analyze their fictional elements, as well as identify the dominant ideas they feel the authors are trying convey, and then discuss their own interactions with the text in an attempt to understand their subjective and varying responses to different works of fiction.

The second simultaneous objective involves having students engage in the writing process by asking them first to imitate different writing styles they have encountered, and then to workshop to produce several original short works of fiction.


Probability and Statistics: A Study of Uncertainty – Stacy Key
Life is full of uncertainty.  However, most people try their best to plan, predict and prepare for the future.  Some people rely on chance, fate, and luck in their predictions, while others base their findings on logic and scientific methodology.  Our study will be based on this logical and scientific approach.  Probability has been defined as "the branch of science concerned with the study of mathematical techniques for making quantitative inferences about uncertainty."  Most historians consider this branch of science as beginning with the work of Fermat and Pascal in the early 1600s, but the use of this science has grown exponentially over the last few decades.  This course will examine techniques and concepts widely used in probability and statistics from both a theoretical and practical perspective.  Examples from the "real world" in the areas of insurance, politics, finance, engineering, medicine, meteorology, and management will be used to add relevance and practicality to our study.

How Big is Infinity Anyway? – Lars Seme
Though infinity is not actually a number in the usual sense, in this class we will discuss the different ways infinity can be approached mathematically, including the arithmetic of the infinite.  Along the way, we will consider the construction of the Natural, Rational, Real, and Complex Numbers and their properties.  For example, we will define what we mean by addition and use this to prove why 1+1 = 2.  The class will conclude with the treatment of infinity using both Cardinal and Ordinal Numbers.

The Shape of Space: The Geometry and Topology of the Universe - Josh Ulrey
The purpose of this course is to give students an insight into the current theories concerning the shape of our universe.  The course begins with the study of two-dimensional surfaces, with a specific focus on the geometric and topological properties that can be used to determine whether or not two surfaces are equivalent.  This discussion culminates in the complete topological classification of all two-dimensional surfaces.  These ideas are then expanded to higher-dimensional surfaces, with special attention given to the universe in which we live and recent studies about its geometry and topology.


How are innovations made?  How does science help?  Well, science applied to real world scenarios provide extraordinary opportunities for individuals, whether alone or collaboratively, to innovate.  This course will demonstrate this position through inquiry learning.  In addition, this course will enable students to learn the anatomy of the human heart, the manner in which it operate (cardiac physiology), and how it is regulated electrically.  Students will be asked to design electrocardiogram (EKG) systems and analysis EKG data.  This course will mainly involve activist learning techniques such as “hands-on” manipulation, grouping, and open discussion but will also encompass lecture, outside reading, videos, and problem solving.

Topics to be covered include:

  • Cardiac Anatomy
  • Electrical Currents
  • Arrhythmic Detection
  • Electrical Fields
  • Cardiac Cycle
  • Cardiac Action Potentials
  • Dipoles
  • Vector Projections
  • Innovating

An Apple a Day Won’t Keep the Doctor Away: Factors Influencing Human Health Today – Katie Pratt
Though increased knowledge of the human body and disease over the last century has lead to great improvements in the quality of our health, scientists and physicians continue to face many new issues affecting human health today, such as the growing threat of antibiotic resistance, virus mutation, climate change, and the epidemics linked to our cultural eating habits. In this course, students will learn about the human immune system and the biology of infectious diseases as well as some of the new challenges affecting global health today. The course will integrate educational videos, radio podcasts, recent scholarly articles, and PowerPoint presentations. Students may gain laboratory experience by conducting their own experiments in the immunology lab. Class discussions of supplementary scholarly articles will also be held.

Course topics:

  1. The immune system
  2. The world’s most infectious diseases
  4. Climate change and infectious disease
  5. Swine Flu
  6. Sexually transmitted diseases
  7. Sustainable/ organic food systems and human health
  8. Obesity in America/ type II diabetes, cardiovascular diseases
  9. Eating disorders
  10. Social class and health in North America

THE EDGE - Nicholas Seward
Science, technology, and the future are all tied together in an ever growing knot.  It is getting increasingly hard to distinguish future possibilities from today’s realities.  This course is not about “doing” the science. (Sorry, no take home rocket propulsion calculation homework.)  It is about examining science and technology's effect on the society, the economy, and the environment.  On the same coin, the course will look at the effects of our society, our economy, and our environment on science and technologies.  Many discussions will be spent on “what ifs.” What would today be like if small changes had been made in the past?  What range of possibilities are there for the future and who/what is at the wheel to make the decisions about what turn we are going to make?

Class topics will be drawn from below.  Each individual class will be customized to more fully match the interests of the comprising students.  By no means will all the topics be covered and the list is subject to change just like science and technology are subject to change.

  • Quantum Mechanics 
  • Relativity 
  • String Theory 
  • Energy
  • Transportation
  • Manufacturing
  • Defect Tolerant Systems 
  • Buckminsterfullerenes/Nanotubes 
  • Moore’s Law Human Computer Interfaces 

It’s Not Easy Being Green: A Survey of Biodiversity and Classification of AR Plants – Katie Speights
Conservation of living organisms depends on individuals who have the ability to identify species and the conditions needed to support them. “It is estimated that only 15% of the world’s species have been identified, and of those, 20% are in peril” – E.O. Wilson (biologist). How can we recognize new species without knowing what has already been identified? How can we conserve what we cannot identify?

 This course is designed to teach students the basics of identification and classification of organisms through the use of the area’s vascular plants. Along with classroom instruction, there will be heavy emphasis on hands-on lab and field experiences (hiking, field notes and sketches, collecting and processing plant specimens). Tennis shoes are a must! Students will use classroom and field instruction of plant structure, dichotomous keys, and library/online sources to identify some of the 2,500+ AR plant species.

Along with plant classification, other topics of the course can include: plant anatomy and reproduction, biodiversity, chemical and cellular processes, animal vs. plant cells, ecology, evolution, medicinal and historical importance of plants in culture/civilization.


 Introduction to Sociology - Rapheal Lewis
Introduction to Sociology including but not limited to:

I. Knowledge
Ability to Identify, define and describe a core body of sociology
Sociological Imagination
II. Comprehension                                                 
Ability to paraphrase, explain, compare, organize, and interpret the founders of Sociology
III. Application
Ability to apply knowledge to existing situations 
Structural Functional Theory / Conflict Theory
IV. Analysis
Ability to formulate arguments and responses to current issues.
Strategy for gathering data/ Survey and Experiment
V. Evaluation
Ability to evaluate and criticize arguments and reasoning
Sociologist: What do they do?
VI. Synthesis
Ability to apply skills of analysis and evaluations to knowledge
Sociology in the Public Service
VII. Communication Skills
1. Ability to acquire and preserve information from oral and written sources
2. Ability to communicate knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis and evaluation
3. Ability to communicate effectively and responsively 

A collection of films may include the following: (e.g. To Kill a Mockingbird, Casablanca, Inherit the Wind, To Sir, With Love, Witness for the Prosecution and Gandhi) and guest lecturers including State and County Judges. 

Economics, Technology, and Their Effects - Robert Low
This course involves an examination of fundamental economic concepts, different economic systems, and their effects upon the concepts of mercantilism, communism, colonialism, and capitalism. Several specific readings will be utilized from Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes, Karl Marx and Frederic Engels. We will also contemplate and discuss the effects of technology on the globalization of capitalism, the shifting of the wealth of nations, and the ultimate flattening of trade barriers in the world economy of the 21st century which results in a new paradigm for all.

Economics and Development in Third World Countries - Kondwani Phwandaphwanda
Students will explore the nature of political systems in selected third world countries and examine how governments within those political systems serve their people to help them improve their lives.  Discussion will focus on a number of areas including education, employment, health, food production and security, and civic education.  Students will also discuss how international development impacts the lives of people living in poor countries.

Selected readings will be used for lectures and class discussion.  Different activities will be used to accommodate the learning styles of students to give each student a chance to maximize his or her learning process.  Students will also be encouraged to conduct basic research for their own further understanding of material discussed in class.

Power of Words in Political Conflict and Debate - Dr. Peggy Scranton
This class explores how the meaning of words and the choice of words affect not just who wins and loses in political conflict but also the meaning of winning and losing.  Our purpose is to examine how words influence “who gets what, when, and how,” Harold Lasswell’s enduring definition of politics.  Words can enhance or diminish a speaker’s message; they may enlighten some and confuse others.  Political labeling can help or hurt a person or group.  Language used in political speech conveys multiple meanings and creates differential outcomes.  Some listeners hear threats while others hear promises.  Selected words call some to action and reassure others that they need not act. 

We will consider the resource value and impact of words on conflict and political debate described in three texts:  the Melian debate and Pericles’ Funeral Oration from Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War; “Bartelby the Scrivener:  A Story of Wall Street,” an essay by Herman Melville; and former Czech President Václav Havel’s 1989 acceptance speech, written for the Peace Prize of the German Booksellers Association, entitled “A Word About Words.” We will also inquire into language in current political debates in the United States via several “On Language” columns written by William Safire for The New York Times.


Area II: General Conceptual Development

Description, Purposes, and Objectives

Area II introduces students to the intellectual skills they need to interrelate with others within their community and also introduces them to some of the tools necessary to be good thinkers.  The ultimate objective of all Area II instructors is to discuss with AGS students the nature of epistemology by thinking about thinking.  The faculty will help students be more conscious of their assumptions, the soundness of their logic, and the possibility of different points-of-view based on different assumptions. Students will learn to express their opinions and will learn about the importance of evidence, logical thinking, and clarity of definition and expression.

The Area II faculty recognizes the fact that participation in contemporary culture requires the ability to weigh the validity of theories to understand new ways of thinking and address complex moral and ethical questions.  Area II classes focus not on what students already know or on what they should think but on how to develop critical thinking skills that allow students to base decisions and actions on an informed consideration of appropriate issues and evidence.  Likewise, Area II examines the assumptions that underlie our own thinking and the thinking that takes place within the various academic disciplines of AGS and the larger human community.  As in the academic areas, Area II focuses on the twentieth-century developments that have influenced our thinking about truth and knowledge and on identifying the challenges that might affect those developments in the future.

To this end, Area II explores the different approaches to knowledge that underlie the disciplines students encounter in their Area I classes. Since each Area II class is a mixture of students from the eight Area I disciplines, Area II presents students with the opportunity to explore connections between the AGS disciplines and to examine different approaches to truth and reality. By examining interconnections between disciplines, Area II will necessarily help students address the overall concept of human relations and will help prepare students to begin to address and understand intellectual challenges.

Area II classes also draw on readings, speakers, and films as subjects for discussion. AGS students interact directly and frequently with leading figures in a variety of fields and learn to watch films not simply as forms of entertainment but as works of art and information open to critical examination.

Because Area II has no clearly-defined content or a set syllabus, faculty members must be creative and flexible enough to explore ideas and the thinking process by focusing on relevant issues as they arise in speaker presentations, films, and other classes. At the same time, weekly faculty meetings ensure that all Area II classes achieve the goals of the course.

By the end of the course, students should have more confidence in their beliefs and in their ability to address questions.  They should also be able to confront new ideas and new ways of thinking as they address complex moral and ethical questions.  It is hoped that in Area II, students will learn how to think and not just what to think. It is hoped that they will begin to understand other points of view, having an appreciation for well-formed and solidly-supported ideas even if they differ from their own.  In the end, the Area II course should enhance each individual student’s excitement about thinking so that all students will fully participate in the community of diverse ideas that awaits them after leaving AGS.

If successful, this approach will prepare students to begin to understand novel ideas that arise in various fields and to recognize interconnections and implications that may pose various intellectual challenges.  It is hoped they will begin to embark on the exciting experiences that college, graduate or professional school, or professional employment may present.

How the Area II Curriculum Works

Though each Area II class may differ somewhat due to classroom dynamics and to the particular expertise of the instructor, faculty members are expected to achieve the purposes and goals of the course in an organized and coherent fashion. The ideal class is one in which the students themselves explore relevant issues in a coherent, logical and respectful fashion. The instructor is expected to guide the discussion, provide intellectual background, place issues within a context, and ensure that all of the relevant topics are covered. Each class of 13-15 students meets three times per week for 1 hour and 20 minutes.


Area III: Personal and Social Development

Description, Purposes, and Objectives

Area III is designed to foster the personal and social development necessary for students to benefit fully from their Area I and Area II classes as well as the comprehensive cultural and social events of the AGS program.  The concept of Area III emerged from the need of students to process and discuss information and experiences.  This makes learning more active and meaningful and enables students to develop accountability for their own educational, social, and cultural environment.  By integrating all the academic classes and events, the curriculum of Area III strives to provide an opportunity for the students to see the importance of taking personal responsibility for one’s ideas and for one’s participation in a democratic society.  The student learns that ideas do have consequences and that "good thinking" means looking at the implications of ideas as well as the assumptions behind them.

Area III provides a forum for actively exploring the importance of community and civic responsibility.  It seeks to inspire a student’s understanding of his or her own personal potential and to impress upon the student the value of character, leadership, integrity, insight, and compassion, not only within the contemporary youth culture but also in society.  These are certainly some of the characteristics that these students (and the rest of us) must cultivate if the challenges of the new century are to be successfully met.

Area III also provides an opportunity for students to reflect upon the featured films, guest speakers, current events, and cutting-edge topics from each of the Area I disciplines, with the goal of strengthening their sense of the importance of active participation in their community.  In doing so, Area III fosters the development of both the personal and social awareness the students will need as their knowledge expands and they encounter diverse worldviews.  By stressing the importance of personal self-awareness and individual accountability, along with the values of character, compassion, and social responsibility, Area III encourages a deeper commitment and understanding of what it takes to create and maintain a just and compassionate community – locally and globally.


  • To promote personal accountability and social responsibility
  • To promote awareness of different learning styles and methods of understanding
  • To promote appreciation of self and one’s relationship to family, friends, and community
  • To improve interpersonal skills
  • To introduce stress management techniques
  • To promote an awareness of global issues and responsibility