Portrait of a Graduate: Cultural Fluency

May 6, 2024 | Carol Blosser

In 2022, students hosted a museum exhibit connecting the dots between history and the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Our portrait of a graduate features our ultimate learning goals for each of our Waterloo students. It represents the toolbox of personal, productive, and academic skills they need to excel and make an impact in the world.

Today we’re talking about another “academic” slice of the pie: historical and cultural fluency.

What is historical and cultural fluency?

Historical fluency is more than just knowing what happened in the past or in other parts of the world.

Yes, historical and cultural knowledge is an important part of this fluency, but it is only a building block for further exploration.

Knowledge must lead to understanding.

Literature is another key part of this understanding. It teaches us to listen to the voices of others and see from the perspective of a time, place, or circumstance that we cannot have experienced for ourselves.

Waterloo students present their understanding of the Enlightenment and how its revolutions in art, politics, and society led to modern Western notions of democracy.

What can we do with this understanding?

Knowledge and understanding both provide the baseline for a third critical real-life skill: the synthesis of past and present.

This is where we can apply our knowledge of where we came from and our understanding of where others are coming from to see where we all might be going in the future.

And we can decide together if or how that direction needs to change.

In 2022, students hosted a museum exhibit connecting the dots between history and the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Historical and cultural fluency at work

At Waterloo, project-based learning helps students build from knowledge and understanding to be able to connect the dots with real-world current events.

  • Several years ago, in our course Subjects and Citizens, sophomores sat on the floor in a circle and figured out how to apply their historical study of democracies to the current very complicated elections.
  • In our Spring 2022 Showcase, students created a reverse chronological order museum, tracing the history of global conflicts back from the ongoing War in Ukraine.
  • In Fall 2022, students wrote and produced an original play about Vienna on the cusp of World War I.
  • In Spring 2023, everything came full circle to apply historical research to our local Austin communities. Once again, students dug into the actual paper archives at a physical library to unearth details about Austin’s history of racial segregation — a history that has never before been published on the Internet. They ultimately made something that helps the whole city remember forgotten people.
  • In Spring of 2024, a group of students went to Europe—on a student-designed, student-led, student-directed tour across Europe—Strasbourg, Munich, Vienna, Budapest, Venice—exploring the places and times they’ve studied.
Waterloo students compiled maps illustrating how historic racial segregation in Austin continues to impact communities today.

When history comes alive

Projects like these get to the real point of the whole humanities discipline: humanity. It’s all about humans — the people who came before us, the people around us, and the people who will come after us.

We want to use the humanities as a bridge, not just connecting the past and the present but connecting with the people around us.

Carol Blosser

Carol Blosser

Carol is a co-founder of Waterloo School and teaches humanities and directs the school’s college advising program. Before helping to found Waterloo, Carol taught literature, history, and journalism at Regents School of Austin for thirteen years, serving as Humanities Department head for five of those years and as a faculty dean for another four years. Carol has a master’s degree and Ph.D. in English from the University of Texas at Austin, where she taught rhetoric, literature, and directed tutor training at the Undergraduate Writing Center for two years. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the College of William and Mary in Virginia, where she worked in archeology and historic preservation and was active in the Canterbury Fellowship at the historic Bruton Parish Church. Since moving to Austin in 1998 to pursue graduate studies, she has been a member of St. David’s Episcopal Church, where she now attends with her family and volunteers with children’s and youth ministry and sings on Sundays.