MIDDLE SCHOOL COURSES
This course helps students understand literature by emphasizing critical thinking, close reading, and symbolic interpretation. Students study The Wild Things, A Raisin in the Sun, American Born Chinese, poetry, and short stories. Analytical writing assignments require students to use textual evidence to support their claims, while interior monologues challenge them to explore the literature from different points of view.
This course explores how characters try to find and remain true to their best selves when faced with external and internal pressures in texts such as To Kill a Mockingbird, Kindred, and Romeo and Juliet. Students write analytically, contextualizing and closely examining direct quotations to support their claims. They also write poetry and personal reflections that encourage them to connect literature to their own lives.
This course examines characters, in texts such as The Catcher in the Rye, the Odyssey, and A Doll’s House, who struggle with identity and attempt to be part of a harmonious society while confronting internal and external challenges. Students consider the world, their role in creating peaceful and meaningful lives, and how to create communities that thrive. The writing program includes analytical, personal, and imaginative assignments. Students continue to refine skills and learn strategies for developing a persuasive literary argument by formulating claims and supporting them with textual evidence and thorough, detailed explanations.
Creative Writing Workshop
This course encourages students, in a supportive workshop setting, to find and develop their creative voices. Students use vivid detail, dialogue, and expressive language to write character-driven short stories, dramatic scenes, and poetry. The class explores how writers and poets use different styles and techniques. Students experiment with these varied forms in their own writing through in-class exercises, journaling, and presentations.
UPPER SCHOOL COURSES
Students encounter characters caught in the struggle to be good while in conflict with external forces and their own passionate impulses. To imagine and evaluate such predicaments, students examine crux scenes—carefully crafted episodes in which characters are driven to make difficult choices. In the process, students refine their vocabulary of human motives, mental and emotional states, and ethics as they find themselves increasingly called upon to make aware and responsible choices of their own. Readings include a variety of voices across time and cultures, such as Frankenstein, Twelfth Night, The Handmaid’s Tale, Salvage the Bones, and selected short stories and poems. The writing program practices and refines analytical skills learned in the seventh through ninth grades. Students become more independent in discovering, developing, and defending their interpretations in persuasive essays. In addition, a study of language builds on students’ knowledge of grammatical concepts so that they may become more aware of their stylistic options as writers.
English III: Living America
Nations define themselves by the stories they tell. America is a land of many stories—so many, in fact, that self-definition is elusive. Just as there is no single American experience or definitive American identity, there is no one story that represents this nation. Students explore what it means to be American as they encounter a variety of storytellers who reveal themselves in novels, plays, essays, poems, and short stories. Readings typically include a range from the Puritans to Thomas Jefferson, from the Transcendentalists to Mark Twain, and from twentieth- century masters such as Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Willa Cather, and
F. Scott Fitzgerald to more contemporary voices. Students learn to engage critically with different literary genres while refining their understanding of themselves in the context of their culture. Above all, the course aims to help students—through close reading, persuasive writing, and class discussion—honor their own ideas, state them clearly, correctly, and thoughtfully, and share their discoveries with a sense of accomplishment.
English III Honors: American Studies
As an English honors class, American Studies aims for a high level of interpretive insight based on the careful examination of literary texts. Unlike the Living America course, American Studies explores the historical and cultural contexts of great works from our national literature. Assignments include readings that stress these contexts, opening up distinctive avenues for discussion and interpretation. American Studies is intended for strong analytical thinkers, and works are chosen to pose unique reading and conceptual challenges. In addition to American classics, students read contemporary works that seek to reimagine American history and culture. Course texts may include works by authors such as William Faulkner, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Toni Morrison, and Tim O’Brien.
Prerequisite: B+ in English II.
Students read poems and short stories as guides for writing their own. Poetry is the initial focus to make students sensitive to what good literary writing requires— vivid and precise detail purposefully selected and arranged. After emulating some masters and experimenting in formal verse and freer forms, students clarify and deepen their visions by revising their work. Later, the focus is on the whole task of creating meaningful short fiction, dramatizing characters’ conflicts in well-crafted scenes, experimenting in narrative points of view, and fine-tuning language in arduous revisions. Readings include Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook, several poems by writers including W. B. Yeats, Elizabeth Bishop, and Langston Hughes, as well as short stories by authors including Anton Chekhov, Katherine Anne Porter, and Raymond Carver. The class culminates with a final project rather than with a final examination.
The only prerequisite for this class is curiosity about William Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s contemporary Ben Jonson wrote that Shakespeare was “not of an age, but for all time.” This class explores the ways in which Shakespeare was both “of his age” as a working actor and writer and “for all time” as a cultural icon. The basis of the course is a close reading of selected plays that mark major developments in the evolution of Shakespeare’s art. The class also examines contemporary forces that shaped the form, thought, and language of the plays. Writing assignments and projects focus on texts as thought-in-action and on the relationship of language to action. The course is conceived in a two-year cycle: the readings do not duplicate plays previously read at other grade levels and, within each two-year cycle, no play is repeated, so students in their junior and senior years may take more than one semester of Shakespeare. At least one film and excerpts from an audio version of each play are studied in connection with the text.
AP Lang: The Language of Protest
Throughout history, writers have spoken truth to power, whether by giving voice to the oppressed or advocating for political, social, or cultural change. In this class, students examine ways in which individuals have used language to resist the imposition of tyranny and create a more just, fair, and egalitarian society. The course culminates in a study of the way writers have used satire to convey these themes. Readings are drawn from speeches and essays by such authors as Socrates, Mary Wollstonecraft, Abraham Lincoln, Sojourner Truth, Henry David Thoreau, Virginia Woolf, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Jamaica Kincaid, Jonathan Swift, Nelson Mandela, Eve Ensler, and Stephen Colbert. Longer works, comprising a variety of genres (memoir, long-form expository nonfiction, and works of fiction [including the graphic novel]), may include Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Art Spiegelman’s The Complete Maus, Charles Dickens’s Hard Times, Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, and Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.
AP Lang: Writing a Life
From tales of ancient heroes to tabloids about modern celebrities, people have been forever fascinated by the lives of fellow human beings. Even the stories of ordinary people can feel comfortingly recognizable or shockingly unfamiliar. In this course, students read texts that attempt to capture a life or lives in words: autobiographies, memoirs (narrative and graphic), biographies, essays, and autobiographical fiction. They gain access to experiences both familiar and foreign, recognize the challenges of turning experienced life into written narrative, and analyze how an author’s stylistic and formal choices change the portrayal of a life. Students learn about the history of the two primary genres of life narratives (autobiography and biography) and talk about challenges writers of both genders wrestle with in presenting “true-life” stories. With each work, students move beyond an appreciation of the text to consider what makes a life narrative a work of literature and how reading such narratives can contribute to their own lives. In addition to shorter works by classic and contemporary writers, major works studied include autobiographical works by Frederick Douglass, Jeanette Winterson, and Dave Eggers and biographical texts by Katherine Boo, Art Spiegelman, and Jon Krakauer.
AP Lang: Imagined Societies—Utopias and Dystopias
In the fourth-century B.C. dialogue Republic, Plato imagined one of the first ideal societies. In 1516, Sir Thomas More’s Utopia gave these fictional societies a name. But what some visionaries see as utopian may perhaps be its counterpart: dystopian. Students explore texts that imagine perfect societies as well as those that extrapolate contemporary threats to nightmarish ends. Although fictional works and films are used as launching pads, the course is rooted in nonfiction, with an emphasis on argumentative writing and the study of rhetorical strategies. Each fictional text is accompanied by relevant essays, historical documents, documentaries, and other nonfictional pieces that treat the issue at hand. Along with the Republic and Utopia, course texts may include Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’s The Communist Manifesto, speeches by Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, allegories by Isaac Asimov and Octavia E. Butler, Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta.
AP Literature: Same House, Different Worlds
Students read literature that explores the mysterious relationship between adults and children. What is the nature of the different worlds that children and adults inhabit? Where do these worlds overlap? Where do they remain untouchably separate? What happens when one world encroaches upon the other? To what extent do we remain our parents’ children, even after we’ve grown up? What do adults have to learn from the children in their lives? In addition to exploring the ways in which literature answers these questions and others, students reflect on how authors use the relationship between parents and children to illuminate larger themes, both social and personal. Works may include William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road, Tarjei Vesaas’s The Ice Palace, Don DeLillo’s White Noise, David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green, Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn, and poetry by William Blake, Walt Whitman, W. B. Yeats, Elizabeth Bishop, James Merrill, and A. E. Stallings.
AP Literature: Outsiders and Aliens
Humans are social beings. From birth, people create communities cemented by familial, social, political, religious, and civic ties. For some, however, full recognition and acceptance into mainstream society proves elusive. Students look at works of drama, fiction, and poetry that explore the stories of such outliers. What or who prevents us from fitting in? Does any power exist for those forced to society’s margins? What do these people’s stories reveal about human nature generally? What do they reveal about contemporary social and cultural realities? Readings may include William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure or Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, Richard Powers’s Galatea 2.2, Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and Zadie Smith’s NW, as well as short stories and poetry, both classic and contemporary.
AP Literature: Good Grief
A character in graphic novelist Dash Shaw’s BodyWorld declares to another, “Living is suffering, Billy. Now give your mom a nice big hug.” Is that right? Buddha seems to say as much in the first of the Four Noble Truths—that suffering is a condition of being alive. Writers have dramatized the many forms of human suffering—in tragedy, comedy, and modern hybrids of traditional genres—for the reader’s vicarious experience and reflection. This course challenges the assumption that life constitutes suffering by exploring the meaning that can be made out of harrowing experiences. Authors help students address questions from diverse angles: How is it that some people can overcome the worst predicaments, whereas others cannot? To what extent do we create and perpetuate our own crises? How much of our success in coping, healing, and emerging wiser depends on ourselves? What does compassion really require of us? Works may include the Book of Job, the Gospel of Luke, William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Albert Camus’s The Plague, and Louise Erdrich’s Tracks, among others, as well as a variety of poems representing voices across time and cultures.