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English

Perceptive reading, thinking, and writing are the goals at the heart of every College Prep English course. 
At all grade levels, work includes informal class discussions, close reading of literature, and frequent writing assignments such as reading quizzes, analytical essays, and creative fiction and verse. Classes are small and provide ample opportunity for individual conferences with instructors as well as group work. The literature studied throughout the four-year program represents a wide variety of genres, styles, periods, and voices, which develop students’ intellectual curiosity and cultural awareness.

Students at College Prep enroll in an English course every semester. English I (ninth grade) and English II (tenth grade) are yearlong courses. In the eleventh and twelfth grades, students choose from a variety of semester-long seminars. 

In addition to specific courses offered by the department, there are numerous additional opportunities for students to develop their interest and proficiency in English. Special workshops in grammar or reading are offered upon request or as need arises. Advanced Placement tutorials are also available to students who want an opportunity to review and prepare for these examinations. Students at all grade levels can submit material to the school newspaper and arts magazine. Students are also encouraged to enter both national and local writing competitions. Seminars sometimes complement in-class work with field trips to off-campus performances. Occasionally, literary scholars, writers, and even musicians visit seminars.

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  • English I (9th grade)

    In English I, students develop skills in close reading, critical thinking, and analytical writing that they will use throughout their College Prep education and beyond. Classes feature informal discussions of reading assignments; practice in phrasing ideas abstractly and supporting observations with concrete textual evidence; instruction in the art of writing coupled with frequent writing assignments; and regular lessons in grammar and vocabulary. The year begins with the summer reading book, The Old Man Who Read Love Stories. Other texts include a short modern play; short stories from different cultural perspectives; classic text such as The Odyssey; and novels such as The Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby.
  • English II (10th grade)

    English II broadens students’ experience with major literary genres, traditions, and writers. The year begins with discussion of the summer reading assignment, Under the Feet of Jesus. Additional course readings include Macbeth, Passing, Antigone, Fathers and Sons, and Beowulf. Building upon the composition and discussion skills introduced in the ninth grade, English II provides sustained practice in formal essay writing and occasional creative work. Students also continue to work extensively with poetry, short stories, and modern essays. Through writing, revision, and exercises, students deepen their understanding of grammar and principles of style; vocabulary assessments garnered from our assigned readings complement the ongoing expansion of vocabulary that comes from reading great works.  

Seminars

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  • Canon and Challenge

    In our literary past, certain books become parts of what we call “the canon.” That is, they become powerful forces in shaping, reflecting, and continuing dominant ideas which are, as Karl Marx tells us, the ideas of the dominant class. Other literary works struggle to challenge, weaken, or replace these ideas and the books that represent them. This course studies works from the literatures of ancient Greece and Rome with an eye to discerning “a canon” and its “challengers.” Authors include many well known names—Homer (The Iliad), Virgil (The Aeneid), and Ovid (Metamorphoses) among others—but also some lesser known writers—Sappho (the Tenth Muse, as the ancients called her), Aeschylus (The Oresteia), and others. The farther back in literature we go, the more clearly we find ourselves and our roots.
  • Creative Writing: Poetry

    Each student produces a portfolio of original poetry during this writing workshop. Be forewarned: journals will become an extra appendage! Students are expected to write nightly and “publish” a poem each week. During class time, students limber up with writing exercises, talk about craft and aesthetics, and discuss and critique one another’s poems. Enthusiastic and supportive participation in workshopping the pieces of fellow students is a must. Poetry is read as writers of poetry, not as critics, and uses the work of professional writers to instruct and inspire. Weekly writing assignments are opportunities to experiment with different poetic styles, devices, and voices. Students are free to be creative and playful, but must also meet deadlines, as professional writers do. In addition to writing poems each week, every student chooses a poet’s work to appreciate, analyze, emulate, and present to the class. The class holds a reading for the school in late May—a wonderful College Prep tradition.  
  • Deadliest Catches

    Like the sea itself, the literature of seafaring brims with adventure, salt, sublimity, and peril. Students consider the transformative experience of life at sea, as recounted by the sea-changed voyager who suffers its isolation and character-testing ordeals; the ship as dramatic crucible for conflict among men bound together in a rigid hierarchical structure; and the ocean and its shores as setting for complex encounters between humankind and nature, predator and prey, civilization and savagery. Readings include selected sea songs and chanteys (which we sing), as well as essays, stories, and poems. This course surveys its history, from the Anglo-Saxon “Seafarer” to such classics as Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and Conrad’s novellas Typhoon and The Secret Sharer to Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, and Spielberg’s iconic summer blockbuster, Jaws. The centerpiece for the seminar is that greatest of all fish stories and literature’s deadliest catch, Melville’s epic, Moby-Dick. To deepen the experience of this masterpiece, the class will move outside for a day of whale watching on Monterey Bay. 
  • The Empire Writes Back

    In Xanadu did Kubla Khan / A stately pleasure-dome decree. Words can create an empire, as Kubla Khan, in Coleridge’s poem, decrees the creation of his marvelous dome, the center of his rule. But can words also dismantle empires? Do the “ancestral voices” begin to destroy the dome the moment they prophesy war? How do words represent what surges beneath and beyond the dome’s borders? And can the poet’s words create an alternative world, a dome built of music, built “in air?” These questions about language and empire lie at the center of this course, which brings into conversation the texts that create empire with the texts that “write back” to imperial power. Colonial texts include Robinson Crusoe (Defoe), Oroonoko (Behn), Lord Jim (Conrad), and A Passage to India (Forster). Post-colonial texts include Midnight’s Children (Rushdie), The Shadow Lines (Ghosh), Foe (Coetzee), and State of War (Rosca).
  • Harlem Renaissance

    There are years that ask questions and years that answer. —Zora Neale Hurston

    In the aftermath of the First World War, and the great migration of African Americans north of the Mason-Dixon line, the Harlem Renaissance began. Part of the Jazz Age, and a flowering of all art forms (dance, music, photography, painting, and letters), the Harlem Renaissance gave birth to many pivotal African American cultural figures who still loom large today such as Langston Hughes, Bessie Smith, Josephine Baker, Louis Armstrong, and many more. This seminar surveys many of the pivotal writers and thinkers who shaped this illustrious moment: Jean Toomer’s Cane, Dorothy West’s The Living is Easy, Jessie Redmon Fauset’s Plum Bun, poetry by Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen, short stories by Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, Claude McKay, and Charles Johnson, and sections from influential sociologists like Marcus Garvey, Charles S. Johnson, and W.E.B. Du Bois.
  • Let’s Get Small: Little Works that Pack a Big Wallop

    This seminar explores how authors tackle some of life’s biggest issues through some of literature’s smallest forms. We study masterly examples of many literary forms, including aphorisms, epigrams, epitaphs, limericks, haikus, flash fiction, fables, sonnets, villanelles, and maybe even a tweet or two. Particularly close attention is paid to the most exciting poetic form in English: the sonnet, that fourteen-line miracle of artistic, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual transformation. With each form, students sharpen their understanding of how form interacts with content to create rich, complex literary meaning. 
  • Literary Loves

    Love is not love / Which alters when it alteration finds. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 tells us two truths about love. The first: love is constant. The second: love is constantly beset by enemies. These enemies are more dangerous than obstacles, for they threaten to annul love, to make it a nothing that is “not love.” And love’s enemies are legion, stretching from crossed stars, feuding families, history’s tumult, and social prejudice to death itself. This course meets the romantics who attempt to prove love’s truth, who cry out, like Romeo, “Then, I defy you, stars!” The seminar includes some of Western literature’s greatest love stories, entering the worlds of famed lovers, as well as the complex historical moments to which they belong. Readings include First Love (Turgenev), Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare), Pride and Prejudice (Austen), Jane Eyre (Brontë), Wide Sargasso Sea (Rhys), and The French Lieutenant’s Woman (Fowles).
  • Literary Monsters

    The landscape of our literary tradition is strewn with monstrous beasties of both the literal and the symbolic sort (and is there really a difference there?). Our task is to consider this phenomenon and the explanations for it. What is the imaginative function of these monsters? To what use are they put by their progenitors? What do they illustrate about—gasp!—ourselves and our deepest fears? Our desires? Do these monstrous characters perform, as has been suggested, the descent of human beings into “the duality of being?” Monstrous stories and plays include Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Euripedes’s Medea, John Gardner’s Grendel, Shakespeare’s Richard III, and Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.
  • Mexican-American Literature

    The earliest known novel by a Mexican-American was published in the aftermath of 1848 and the U.S.-Mexican War. When California moved from Spanish to Mexican rule, to a territory of the United States, María Amparo Ruiz de Burton (friend to Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo and petitioner to President Lincoln) published two recovered texts: Who Would Have Thought It? (1872) and The Squatter and the Don (1885). This class reimagines what the canon of Mexican-American letters looks like with the advent of recovered literature (texts not previously published and those republished a hundred years later). Among the questions we ask are: is there a single Mexican-American opus? Do politics determine a writer’s inclusion or exclusion from the canon? How do we reconcile our current understanding of Mexican-American literary works with our recent discovery?
  • Moral Mayhem!

    What does it mean to be a good person? How does one become good? This course begins by examining Ancient Greek and Chinese notions of goodness and then turns to the question of moral choice: what happens when our values collide and we’re forced to choose between them? Specifically, this seminar looks at issues of freedom and justice in Ann Patchett’s award-winning novel Bel Canto, explores the costs of a western education in Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga’s novel Nervous Conditions and considers moral dilemmas caused by modern technology in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. Students write frequently and informally in this class, drafting in-class analytical essays as well as a personal essay plus revision.
  • Rebels and Rascals

    The Reverend William Sloane Coffin, 1960s civil rights and anti-war activist, defines a “robust nonconformist” as someone whose opinions have transformed into convictions. How does such a transformation occur? What enables a person to take an unpopular stand or to be willing to die for a cause? What can get in the way of acting on one’s beliefs? When is it acceptable to be, as per Holden Caulfield, “half yellow?” These are questions that the characters we study wrestle with—a young American who fights in the Spanish Civil War (For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway), a psychopathic con man who tries to rally fellow mental patients to change hospital policy (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey), a jazz musician who struggles for his dignity on the drug-infested streets of Harlem (“Sonny’s Blues,” James Baldwin), lovers in modern India who attempt to defy the laws of the age-old caste system (The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy). Additional texts, time permitting, include
    Their Eyes were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
    and  A River Runs Through It, Norman Maclean.
  • Shakespeare’s Laughter

    In his own day, Shakespeare was at least as renowned for his comedies as for his tragedies and histories. In “Shakespeare’s Laughter,” we read a broad selection
    of his comedies, considering them not only as works of Shakespeare’s own time—the Renaissance—but also as superb and rich repositories of the profoundest
    experiences, explored through laughter. Unlike the tragedies, which might be rivaled by some Greek tragedies, there is nothing like Shakespeare’s comedies, either before or since. Shakespeare laughs us into truth, beauty, and ourselves.
  • Telling Stories: The Craft of Fiction Writing

    “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” This famous first line from Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude immediately pulls the reader in. How do you come up with great first lines? How do you keep the reader reading? How do you make your characters come alive on the page? These questions—and many more—are explored in this course on creative writing. Students study the fundamental elements of fiction (characterization, plot, setting, dialogue, pacing, point of view) and do exercises designed to develop skills in these areas. The class also reads stories and novel excerpts from famous writers, analyzing their fiction for technique, learning how writers create the effects they do. Every student crafts her or his own fiction. This course is dedicated to creativity and to learning about literature from a whole new perspective: that of the writer.
  • Up from Slavery

    There are two toweringly important novels in twentieth-century African American literature—Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952) and Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987)—and this course explores them. Both are extraordinary works of verbal artistry and are penetrating critiques of slavery and its aftermath, haunting evocations of William Faulkner’s insistence that “the past is not dead. It’s not even past.” Ellison and Morrison reach back to the birth of the Republic and the origins of African American literature in the slave narrative, that uniquely American genre of autobiography that chronicles the former slave’s heroic journey of ascent (up) from bondage into freedom. The course begins there, with the slave narrative’s leading exemplar, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845). The reading list also includes Harriet Jacobs, Herman Melville, Booker T. Washington, and W.E.B. DuBois, as well as a selection of African American folktales, spirituals, and the blues.

English

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The College Preparatory School

mens conscia recti

a mind aware of what is right
Photo Credit: Dan Battle, Mark Compton, Bosky Frederick, Polly Lockman, Richard Wheeler, and Jonathan Zucker.