Multidisciplinary Courses

Urban offers several classes that span and blend traditional disciplines, encouraging students to connect and apply their skills and knowledge from a range of academic subjects. Many of these courses involve a significant field component, taking advantage of Bay Area resources, and all require substantive independent and/or collaborative projects. Assignments in these classes are frequently hands-on, and analyze contemporary problems in the Bay Area, California, the United States and/or the larger world.

California Studies focuses on how water affects the state of California in economic, environmental, political, and daily ways. This field-based class meets during both B & C periods throughout the term; students spend two full weeks traveling around California in late May. Most of us know little about our water supply beyond what we see fall between the tap and the drain. Where does the water in San Francisco come from? This class will trace San Francisco’s water supply back to its source through indoor pipes, city streets, reservoirs, treatment facilities, tunnels, pipelines and along rivers to the snowpack. As we meet with activists and policy makers, we’ll use visual art, science, and equity frameworks to interpret the conflicting uses and needs around water in California. (12th Graders only) (Meets during two class periods) (1 credit; fulfills Service Learning 12 requirement)

Homelands: Discovering Diaspora through Oral History + Media is a multidisciplinary course that examines contemporary trends in the movement of people around the world with a focus on indigenous, immigrant and refugee communities. Through personal interviews, oral histories, media arts, and community based participatory research, students investigate displacement factors such as war, violence, poverty, and climate change. By engaging with Bay Area community organizations, students will achieve a more nuanced understanding of global migration trends, social issues impacting migration, the practical efforts of local organizations, and grass roots movement building. In addition to academic study and research, students will interview and document local individuals using audio, video and photography, creating a final collaborative and community based capstone project. (½ Credit; fulfills Service Learning 12 requirement for 12th graders)  (11th and 12th Graders only)  
Cross-listed in Service Learning classes.

Voices of Incarceration addresses the problem of “attention violence,” so named by civil rights activist Reverend William Barber II, describing how we turn our eyes away from the experiences of people who most deserve our attention. More than 70 million Americans bear the marks of the criminal legal system, and they—and their families—have been victims of that “attention violence.” This elective aims to turn the light of our shared attention upon them: their individual experiences, as well as the systems, beliefs and practices that created our current era of mass criminalization. Against a backdrop of racism and mismanaged resources, many forces converge to give America the highest incarceration rate in the world: from policing, to policy, to the legal system, to the emphasis on “correction” rather than “rehabilitation.” As we learn about the root causes and possible solutions for this issue, the content of the course will come primarily from those directly impacted. We’ll listen to podcasts and interviews, we’ll read first-person narratives, and we’ll learn from speakers who have been released back into their communities after spending decades under the surveillance of the state. Students will also partner with individuals and organizations that are working to reduce the harm caused by the criminal legal system, as well as to change the system itself. (1/2 credit that can count toward English requirement) Cross-listed in English.

Courses Offered in Alternate Years


Climate Change: Challenges and Solutions engages students to dive deep into one of the greatest challenges facing humanity. We start by exploring the dynamics of global climate and climate science. What kind of predictions can we make about how our planet will look in the future? What are the political, economic and social justice implications of action versus inaction? How can we communicate effectively about the challenges and what is at stake? Can we implement real, working solutions through resilience, mitigation and sustainable practices? This course will include field trips to speakers and panels, community events, and community engagement to provide context and depth to the scope of the challenges and solutions. Student-generated final projects will expand upon a curricular theme and the approach and outcomes should reflect the diversity of disciplines covered in the course. Depending on student interest, possible outcomes could include design projects (physical or digital), educational videos, mini-courses or research papers. (1/2 credit)  (11th and 12th Graders only) Cross-listed in Science.

Mathematics of Democracy explores how mathematics can illuminate the ways in which our society pursues the stated and unstated goals of our democracy. From a civics lens, we address the design, history and purposes of the US system of government. Then, blending civics and mathematics, we will investigate how we pursue those purposes and how mathematics helps illuminate the contradictions (stated vs. unstated goals, ideals vs. practice) in our democracy. In particular, students will analyze gerrymandering and the methods being attempted to measure it (and how they fail), as well as voting rights of minority populations. Finally, we will explore alternatives to our system, including an analysis of how other voting systems work in theory and practice. This class incorporates both reading and mathematical problem solving; students will be assessed by projects, reports and tests. Prerequisite: Math 3 (11th and 12th Graders only) (1/2 credit)

UAS Rethinking Poverty looks critically at how different constituencies (artists, academics and activists, among others) have tried to recognize, define and understand poverty. From films like The Florida Project and Parasite, to ads for Save the Children, to reports on Living on $2 a day in America, representations of poverty abound – as do prescriptions for addressing it. Through such varied lenses as film, ethnography, literature and economics, we will investigate the virtues – and limitations – of these representations. We will explore the origins of the modern concept of poverty and the ideology of development that has arisen alongside, as well as the metrics used to talk about both. The academic realm offers a variety of differing answers to some key questions: Who defines scarcity? What counts as deprivation? Where does inequality come from? In addition, we will apply a critical lens to our own investigation: Can poverty be defined from the remove of a classroom? How much and how well can we come to understand? How accurate and helpful are universal models and global standards in defining poverty? What assumptions do we bring to this study of what we’re calling poverty? And, finally, what can we actually do? Prerequisite: Completion of Remaking America or teacher approval. (11th and 12th Graders only) (1/2 credit)

Queer Theater History examines the global history of queer theater. Students will study plays, performances, theory, and scholarship in an exploration of how LGBTQ+ artists have used theater to challenge societal norms and push for political change. The course covers a range of performance styles, from drag shows to experimental theater, and how queer artists have shaped the history of theater over time. Students will also look at the intersections of queer theater with other social movements, such as feminism and anti-racism,  and the ongoing struggles for representation and inclusion in the theater world. This course intends to identify key aspects of queer theater and performance, and deepen students' understanding of physical, social, and emotional subtext in history. Prerequisites: US History Sequence (Making/ReMaking America), any Theater class or instructor approval. (11th and 12th graders only) (1/2 credit) Cross-listed in History.