The Arkansas Governor’s School 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, Coordinator
Choral Music Drama
Bill Higgins April Gentry-Sutterfield
Stefan Cwik Christina Riggins
Instrumental Music Visual Arts
Tom McDonald, Conductor Jason McCann
Rick Dimond Jessica Peterson
Gerry Gibson
Kevin Sanders
Area I: Academics Stacy Key, Coordinator
English/ Language Arts Natural Science
Wesley Beal Claire Desrochers
Allen Frost Jennifer Jehnsen
Amber James Dain Strickland
Jessica Pitchford Jenna Warren
Social Science Mathematics
Rapheal Lewis Stacy Key
Kondwani Phwandaphwanda Lars Seme
Jim Ross Josh Ulrey
Peggy Scranton
Area II: General Conceptual Development Mark Elrod, Coordinator
Alex Anderson
Revis Edmonds
Alan Elrod    
Tara Flanagan
Jim Rush
Phillip Spivey    
Ray Wheeler
Area III: Personal and Social Development Phillip Melton, Coordinator
Fred Boosey
Richard Gobble
Debbie Hibbs
Jennifer Lusk
Elizabeth Martin
Spencer Sutterfield
Chad Terrell



April Gentry-Sutterfield and Christina Riggins
The Drama students in the 2013 Arkansas Governor’s School will explore several foundational components of modern performance, examine the role of performance within society, and critically analyze a selection of texts across contemporary and classical canons of drama. The students should be prepared to engage themselves intellectually, artistically, physically and collaboratively while they refine skills like focus, leadership, team work, commitment, and communication.


Bill Higgins and Stefan Cwik
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, Gerry Gibson, Rick Dimond, and Kevin Sanders
The AGS 2013 students in Instrumental Music will be involved in rehearsing and performing works of prominent 20th and 21st century composers. Emphasis is placed on music from this period, 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 or 21st 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 1 disciplines. The discussions and lectures in Perspectives feature faculty and student presentations, discussions, theory styles, and listening sessions which deal with significant music and musical trends. 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 Jessica Peterson
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 Strange World of Literary Theory – Allen Frost
In this course, we will bring literary theory to bear on a range of texts, from fables and films to sonnets and short stories. We will consider a number of approaches to the study of literature as we pose new questions. For example, what can ecocriticism tell us about Shelley's "Ozymandias"? How can postcolonial theory help us view Disney's Aladdin in fresh ways? What does socioeconomic theory have to say about television sitcoms?


Readings will include works by John Barth, Lyn Hejinian, Toni Morrison, Wallace Stevens, and Robert Frost, among others. Throughout the course, we will continually ask ourselves how, when, and why theory should be used in our encounters with the literary.


Introduction to Screenwriting – Amber James

During this course, students will examine elements that contribute to successful screenwriting. Students will scrutinize several successful (and some not-so-successful) examples of screen plays and will determine which elements contribute to or detract from the artistic effectiveness of the piece by employing critical analysis techniques. Students will be introduced to the basics of screenwriting by reading scripts, examining films from a writer's perspective, and writing one or more short screenplays.


Students will additionally discover how to manage plot, dialogue, structure, genre and character--elements essential to effective storytelling throughout many genres of writing.

Flash Fiction - Jessica Pitchford
In Flash Fiction, our focus will be on the briefest of fiction forms: the short-short story (also known as fast fiction, flash fiction, or micro fiction, among others). These extremely short stories, which can vary in length but are on average no more than 750 words, are increasingly popular, if difficult to achieve—a real creative challenge. This course both introduces participants to the art of the short-short story and prepares them to participate in traditional workshops and even fiction slams. In-class activities include reading, discussions, individual and group writing exercises, as well as peer workshops. The ultimate goal is to get students reading one of the most progressive forms of fiction being written and published today and trying their hand at creating their own.



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.



Myths and Truths: The Chemistry of the Food We Eat- Claire Desrochers

Upon walking into a grocery store, enticing, colored packaging bombards a person with words such as “low fat” or “natural” scrawled on the label.  A large amount of molecular engineering was performed to make the finished food product available for people on supermarket shelves.   In this course, a scientific inquiry will be conducted to understand the chemical processes such as farming methods or food additives that can take a raw material to a final product ready to be eaten.  In addition to studying the biochemical impact of food on human health and the environment, the ethical arguments of food production will also be examined.

Infectious Diseases and Public Health Initiatives in Developing Nations - Jennifer Jehnsen
Most deaths from infectious diseases occur in developing nations with limited money to spend on healthcare. In many of these countries, more than a third of the population lives on less than $1 a day, and one in three children are malnourished. Malnourished adults and children are more susceptible to infections due to the lack of necessary calories and nutrients in their diet. The spread of infectious diseases significantly hinders economic growth and development; therefore, a decrease in the number of infectious disease-related deaths will be an important first step in the development of these nations.

In this course, we will analyze the spread of infectious diseases and the pathogens that cause them. We will also analyze the implementation of public health initiatives focusing on disease prevention in developing nations. We will focus specifically on malaria, waterborne illnesses, and HIV/AIDS. We will analyze projects initiated by governments and NGO’s to evaluate their effectiveness in preventing diseases. We will discuss short-term and long-term goals of specific projects as well as some unintended consequences of public health interventions. 

Myths and Facts of 21st Century Science Issues - Dain Strickland

Science, technology, and medicine are driving forces in our society. They inspire hopes but also fears. They are used but also abused. Billions are spent for research and practice. What is the dark side of science, technology, and medicine? How do scientists, engineers, and physicians cope with it? What are their ethical dilemmas? How did the current ethical standards and practices originate?

Using history, this course addresses some of the above questions and attempts to enrich the understanding of ethics and social responsibility in science, technology, and medicine. Furthermore, it links up to present standards and practices and offers multi-faceted training and experiences, which would be indispensable to the young scientist throughout his/her career. The course is a rare combination of in-depth historical-philosophical perspectives coupled with debate. It aims to teach students how to deal effectively with controversial issues by comparing their own views with opposing views.

Genetic Engineering – Jenna Warren

This class will explore the history and wide application of genetic engineering.  Students will learn about and discuss topics such as methods of genetic engineering, eugenics, gene therapy, GMOs, designer babies, whether or not we can live forever, and their ethical issues.  Class discussions will also address the role of genetic engineering in pop culture including books and movies.



Introduction to Sociology – Dr. Rapheal Lewis
This course covers a specific methodology centered around critical thinking, while at the same time engaging the patterns of thought of the early sociologist. It has been always a matter of curiosity how people get along with others, what they do for a living, and who and how people select leaders. Over the years there have been countless observations about human behavior. This course attempts to examine some of these in terms of content and consequences. Each student will be required to complete at least two requirements.

1. They must select one of the early sociologists and discuss their philosophy and methodology and the reasons for their choice. All of this should be prepared and presented in an essay or some other form, based on the student creativity.

2.  A research design or a plan to investigate a sociological problem at some time in the future must be developed.

Developing Nations - Kondwani Phwandaphwanda
Students will explore 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/her learning process. Students will also be encouraged to conduct basic research for their own further understanding of material discussed in class.

Living in the Modern World- Jim Ross
This class will examine the images Americans have of themselves, their government, and other social institutions in modern America (1945-2013).  Americans find themselves vacillating between nostalgia for a golden past and cynicism about the present and the future.  In this class, we will examine how the choices of those in the past combined with the choices we make as individuals and a society in the present have shaped our current worldview.  By exploring the importance of worldviews, and the importance of how worldviews are constructed, this class will help students look at the past and use it to help them decide the best way to respond to our rapidly changing world.

Specifically we will look at issues like the role of the government in the economy during and after World War II, the role of ad men in the creation of a new consumer culture that began to market “hip,” the rise of experts who “explained” reality to families, a foreign policy based on exporting American democracy, the rise of the “rights” movement in the 1960s, the rise of mass movements for change in the 1960s, and finally the rise of the new right and the question of a “Christian America.”

We will use primary sources documents, music, art work, television commercials from the 1950s and 1960s, and numerous other sources to allow each student to come to his or her own conclusions about the questions we are asking.  In the end, each student will be his or her own historian.   Each student will be expected to use evidence to defend his or her conclusions. 

We will specifically ask the following questions:

1.       Why is the United States like it is in 2013?
2.       How do we live between nostalgia and cynicism about the modern world?
3.       How do we live with our deepest differences and at the same time guarantee liberty and justice for all?

Power of Words in Political Conflict and Debate - Dr. Peggy Scranton
This class explores how the meaning of words affects not just who wins and loses in political conflicts and debates but also the meaning of winning and losing.  Our purpose is to examine how words influence “who gets what, when, and how,” which is 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 or a cause.  Language used in political speech conveys multiple meanings and creates differential outcomes as some listeners hear threats while others hear promises.  Following the insights of Murray Edelman, who pioneered the study of “politics as spectacle” and “the political uses of language,” we will examine how 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 specific conflicts and political debates:  1) a violent military conflict between ancient empires, the Peloponnesian War, and 2) two nonviolent movements against brutal dictators, the Serbian student OTPOR struggle against Milosevic in 2000-2001 and the Liberian Women’s Peace Movement (for which two activists received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012), and 3) the 2012 US Presidential Election. 

Sources students will read/observe include the Melian debate and Pericles’ Funeral Oration from Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War; and former Czech President Václav Havel’s 1989 acceptance speech, “A Word About Words,” written for the Peace Prize of the German Booksellers Association, and two documentary videos on recent, successful nonviolent movements against brutal dictators: on OTPOR in Serbia from the series “A Force More Powerful” and a documentary film on Liberia, “Pray the Devil Back to Hell.”  For the presidential election, we will analyze platforms, nomination acceptance speeches, political ads, debate videos and transcripts.  Our approach to these conflicts stresses the rhetoric of the powerful vs. the (apparently) powerless, the use of symbolic speech along with “words,” the power dynamics of bargaining using force and words, and prospects for peace after violent and nonviolent conflicts.  Our approach to presidential election rhetoric stresses alternative views of the proper role of government, ways candidates frame issue positions, and audiences to which they target appeals.

In terms of writing and participation, students will create individual and/or group mini-projects concerning the meaning of the Melian debate, create a piece of propaganda for or against OTPOR, and write a comparative analysis of the nonviolent movements in Serbia and Liberia.  For the presidential debates, students will analyze candidates’ positions in terms of political ideology and varieties of rhetorical appeals. 

We will complete a variety of in-class writing and discussion exercises designed to include all members of the class.  In addition to “silent discussions,” in which each student writes what they would say out loud, we will use semi-formal debate formats as well as additional non-competitive ways to participate in class. 

During the last few days of class, students will share their reflections on the class’s central concept – the power of words – by creating and presenting final projects as individuals or in groups.  These will convey lessons learned about words, power, debate, and conflict, and will use a format of the student’s choice, such as narratives about the causes and dynamics of conflict and conflict resolution; images of conflict and debate, such as comic strips/graphic novels, political cartoons, or pamphlets/propaganda; creative writing about the nature of political debate, and of violent and/or nonviolent conflict; enactment of a political debate; and/or re-enactments of salient events from one or more of the conflict cases.


Area II: General Conceptual Development

Area II focuses on thinking—on the ways we think, on the assumptions that underlie our own thinking and the thinking that takes place within the various disciplines, on cutting edge developments that have influenced our thinking about truth and knowledge, and on means of thinking more effectively. Since Area II brings together students from all eight Area I disciplines, instructors can help students explore connections and differences between the disciplines and help them understand various approaches to truth and reality. Area II classes also draw on speakers, films, and readings as subjects for discussion; 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 open to critical examination.

Area II begins by introducing students to thinking about thinking, teaching them to be more conscious of their assumptions, the soundness of their logic, and different points of view based on different assumptions. Students express their opinions but also learn about the importance of evidence, logical thinking, and clarity of definition and expression. As the course progresses, they confront new ideas and new ways of thinking, and they address complex moral and ethical questions, not in order to learn what they should think, but in order to learn how to base decisions and actions on an informed consideration of appropriate issues and evidence. By the end of the course we hope they will have a clearer understanding of their assumptions and of the thinking process in general. We also hope that they will understand other points of view and have an awareness of complex issues, as well as an appreciation for well-informed and solidly supported ideas. Finally, we hope that they will be excited about thinking.


Area III: Personal and Social Development

Area III is designed to foster the personal and social development necessary for the students to benefit fully from their Area I and Area II classes and 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 own ideas and for one’s participation in a democratic society. The students learn 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 civic responsibility; it seeks to inspire a student’s understanding of his or her own personal potential and then to impress upon the student the value of character, leadership, integrity, insight, and compassion, not only within their own communities, but in society at large. It is within this framework that students explore curricular issues such as social theory and responsibility, theories of intelligence, conflict and stress management, psychological and personality theory, goal setting, and service. Area III emphasizes a basic understanding and application of psychology and sociology as it relates to the development of student potential.

Area III classes provide an opportunity for students to respond to featured films, speakers, cutting-edge topics from each of the disciplines, special events, and even current events, with the goal of strengthening social development. Students are encouraged to participate in classroom interactions, small group discussions, simulations, role playing, and other learning strategies. Participation in these activities stimulate an understanding of community involvement and decision-making. In addition, readings, surveys, personality inventories, and optional journal writing encourage personal growth.