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English

Perceptive reading, thinking, and writing 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 opportunities for students to develop their interest and proficiency in English. Special workshops in grammar or reading are occasionally offered to supplement students’ writing skills. Advanced Placement tutorials are available to students who want an opportunity to review and prepare for AP examinations. Students at all grade levels are encouraged to submit material to the school newspaper and arts magazine as well as enter both national and local writing competitions. English seminars are complemented by field trips to off-campus performances and guest lectures from literary scholars, writers, and even musicians.

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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 a summer reading book from a list of texts identified by English I teachers. Additional texts include a short modern play; short stories from different cultural perspectives; a 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, Fathers and Sons, and A Doll House. 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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  • Breaking Free

    Martin Luther King Jr. famously stated that “freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” This conflict, the fight for freedom, lies at the heart of both political struggle and great literature. This course explores different forms of freedom—and the quest for freedom—in literature from around the world. How does slavery function in the ancient and modern worlds? What is the relationship between personal and political independence? How does one resist oppression? And most importantly, what does it mean for the human spirit to be truly free? Texts include Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground, Plautus’ Pseudolus, Dai Sijie’s Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Jeannette Walls’s The Glass Castle, and Leon Uris’s Exodus. We also discuss essays by Henry David Thoreau, Michel Foucault, and Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Creative Writing: Poetry

    Each student produces a portfolio of original poetry during this writing workshop. Be forewarned: journals will become an extra appendage! Students 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. Poetry is read as writers of poetry and not as critics, using 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 May—a wonderful College Prep tradition.
  • Deadliest Catches

    Like the sea itself, the literature of seafaring brims with adventure, salt, sublimity, and peril. This course examines 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. Sources include the Anglo-Saxon “Seafarer,” Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, and Spielberg’s iconic summer blockbuster, Jaws. Other readings include selected sea songs and chanteys, as well as essays, stories, and poems. The centerpiece for the course is that greatest of all fish stories and literature’s deadliest catch, Melville’s epic, Moby-Dick. Finally, the class chases sea creatures ourselves during a day of whale watching on the San Francisco Bay.
  • Falling From Grace

    Perfection. We had it and we lost it (or so the story goes). Was Adam and Eve’s expulsion from paradise a good or bad thing? How fundamental to humans is the desire to “get ourselves back to the garden.” By struggling and suffering can we regain grace? Why are some people strengthened and others broken by a fall? This seminar’s texts include characters who embrace the world of knowledge and experience (with its temptations and hardships)—characters who make colossal blunders and those who lose their innocence because of the mistakes of others. Texts include: James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, Peter Shaffer’s Equus, Tobias Wolff’s Old School, Annie Proulx’s “Brokeback Mountain” and contemporary poetry.
  • Hyphen: Asian-American Literature

    Hyphenated identities—those of Chinese-, Japanese-, Korean-, Filipina/o-, Vietnamese-, and Indian-Americans—come together in this seminar, which explores the diverse voices of Asian-American literature. From classics to contemporary works, the rich worlds in Asian-American literature help examine a few overarching questions: How do these texts reflect the experience of being split between two identifies? What makes Asian-American writing distinctive in terms of style, form, and theme? How do authors capture their heritage, with its ancient and modern histories, religious traditions, and family/social norms? Novels include John Okada’s No-No Boy, Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters, Chang Rae Lee’s Native Speaker, and Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being. Short stories include Bharatee Mukherjee’s “The Middle Man,” Yiyun Li’s “Gold Boy, Emerald Girl,” and Lysley Tenorio’s “Monstress,” as well as excerpts from Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior and Thi Diem Thuy Le’s The Gangster We Are All Looking For.
  • Me, You, Us, & Them: Literature and Identity

    Most of us worry, at one time or another, about fitting in and being accepted. And most of us have been told, at one time or another, “Don’t worry, just be yourself!” But how do we know who our “self” is? Do we uncover it or do we construct it? Is it fixed or changing, private or public, singular or plural? Is “self” the same as “identity”? This course explores these questions through the study of literary works in which characters and their authors grapple with gender, sexuality, race, religion, class, and identity. The readings explore the complexity, contradiction, and creativity of selfhood and identity. Particular attention is paid to “intersectionality”—the way different components of identity intersect, interfere, and interact with one another. Texts include James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, David Henry Hwang’s M Butterfly, Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, and Patrick White’s The Twyborn Affair.
  • The Pursuit of Happiness

    Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the revolutionary concept of these inherent rights called us to pursue our own self-interest—to pursue ourselves—even in defiance of traditional morality and social conventions. But are we in the modern world happy? What is happiness, and why is it so much more elusive than Thomas Jefferson conceived? This course seeks to understand characters who desperately search for the happiness that wealth, love, and career seem to offer. Texts include Charles Dickens’ Hard Times, E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View, Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, Lydia Millet’s How the Dead Dream, and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Also included are short stories by Kate Chopin and Ernest Hemingway and a few contemporary essays that consider economic and psychological definitions of happiness. 
  • Renaissance Perspectives

    Beginning in Italy, the Renaissance came late to England, yet it brought with it a burst of creative energy that still amazes us today. This was a time for questioning old certainties and constructing new ones, a time of enormous advances in our understanding of the earth and the heavens, but also a moment of renewed and intense interest in the self. The English Renaissance, drawing energy from the rediscovered writings of Greece and Rome, expresses all this and more in a language—like that of our time—which surges with life and change. Beginning with Thomas More’s Utopia and some selections from Montaigne’s Essays, The Prince, Castiglione’s The Courtier and extending to Milton’s Paradise Lost (selections), the readings center on two tragedies by William Shakespeare (King Lear and Antony and Cleopatra). The course includes a generous portion of Renaissance music and lyric poetry and a look at the art and literary theory of the period.
  • The Rest is Silence

    Picture this scene from the Hitchcock movie Torn Curtain: two men in the same house who have never met are nearly instantaneously engaged in a wordless struggle that will end in death. One of the characters is the quintessential Hitchcock hero, a regular guy caught up in unusual circumstances. It could have been a generic scene from any number of movies, but it isn’t. What makes this scene stand out is its audio track. The scene takes place in silence. Why is silence so powerful? What can it convey? Is silence more than the absence of words or sound? William Faulkner’s masterpiece, The Sound and the Fury, is the cornerstone text for the course. Other readings include: Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Bauby’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, as well as some poetry by Dickinson, Szymborska, Rumi, Borges, and short stories by Ishiguro, Gallant, Mishima, Welty, and Munro. The class culminates in a viewing of a few key scenes that take place in silence.
  • Russian Literature

    Before translations of the works of Turgenev, Dostoevsky, and Gogol made their way into Western libraries and coffeehouses in the mid- to late-19th century, Westerners viewed Russia itself as a hopelessly backward land. Imagine the shock, then, of learned readers when they realized how sophisticated and how penetrating were the psychology and prose of Dostoevsky. This course covers one of the most challenging (and thus most satisfying) novels Russia has to offer from the 19th century: The Brothers Karamazov. Short stories by Gogol, Chekhov, Nabokov, and Dovlatov immerse the reader in the minds of characters who are fully formed, and address questions of justice, love, and faith. Ultimately, the literature makes us laugh and cry simultaneously at tales that are both poignant and absurd.
  • The Spirit: Dead or Alive?

    In the celebrated final sentence of his story “The Dead,” James Joyce asserts that the snow in Ireland falls equally “…upon all the living and the dead.” In the world we live in, we know both sorts of spirits, those who are profoundly alive and those who merely exist. This seminar examines the phenomenon of the human spirit, especially in places where vital souls and dead and dying ones share the stage. The central text is Dante’s Divine Comedy, focusing on Inferno and Purgatorio. Other texts include Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse. Short stories by Tolstoy and selections from The Conference of the Birds by Farid ud-Din Attar complete the cycle.
  • 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, simultaneously creating suspense and establishing character. 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? This creative writing course explores the fundamental elements of fiction—characterization, plot, setting, dialogue, pacing—and develops students’ skills in these areas. The class reads stories and novel excerpts from famous writers, analyzing their fiction for technique. Most importantly, students craft their own short fiction. This course is dedicated to creativity and to learning about literature from a whole new perspective: that of the writer.
  • What Could Possibly Go Wrong? Literature and Dystopia

    This course samples the uncomfortable pleasures of dystopia, exploring literary works that imagine just how bad things can get. Readings and discussion focus on both the thematic content of these works—the societal issues the authors highlight—and the formal techniques they employ to communicate their dark visions and dire warnings. Questions of function, intention, effect, and meaning are explored as the class imagines how these artists want readers to respond to their work, as well as how we (as individuals and as a class) actually do respond. The syllabus includes several short stories and some of the following novels: George Orwell’s 1984, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, Georges Perec’s W, or the Memory of Childhood, Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo, Chang-Rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea, and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. 
  • What the River Knew

    Why are rivers so deeply bound up with storytelling, and why is flowing water such an enduring metaphor for human experience? What did William James mean when he coined the phrase: stream of consciousness? Or Melville when he declared: meditation and water are wedded forever? This course considers the condition of the world’s rivers. The reading list features such classic river works as Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, journey novels that raise probing questions about empire, personhood, and our relationship to nature. Other texts include Marilynne Robinson’s haunting water novel, Housekeeping, Maclean’s A River Runs Through It, as well as selections from Thoreau’s Walden and Twain’s Life on the Mississippi. Other sources include a sampling of river stories, poems, explorer journals, spirituals, and popular songs. Outings include a field trip to the Mark Twain Papers at UC Berkeley and a river rafting excursion.

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.