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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 year-long 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. 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; assessments garnered from assigned readings complement the ongoing expansion of vocabulary that comes from reading great works.

Seminars

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  • Canon and Challenge

    The farther back in literature we go, the more clearly we find ourselves and our roots. In our literary past, certain books became part of what we call “the canon.” That is, they became powerful forces in shaping, reflecting, and continuing dominant ideas that 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 literature of ancient Greece and Rome with an eye to discerning a “canon” and its “challengers.” Authors include many familiar names—Homer, Virgil, and Ovid—and some less familiar, such as Sappho (the Tenth Muse, as the ancients called her) and Aeschylus, among others.
  • Creative Writing: Poetry

    This writing workshop culminates in students producing a portfolio of their own poetry. Students are expected to write nightly and “publish” a poem each week. In late May, the class holds a reading for the School. Be forewarned: your journal will become an extra appendage! 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 peer workshopping is a must. Poetry by professional writers is read from the perspective of working poets, used for instruction and inspiration. Students are free to be creative and playful, but must also meet deadlines, as professional writers do. Weekly writing assignments are opportunities to experiment with different poetic styles, devices, and voices. In addition to writing poems each week, students also choose a poet’s work to appreciate, analyze, emulate, and present to the class. Texts include a course reader and an anthology of contemporary poetry such as The Best American Poetry: 2018.
  • Deadliest Catches

    Like the sea itself, the literature of seafaring brims with adventure, salt, sublimity, and peril. This course surveys its history, from such classics as Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner to Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea and Spielberg’s iconic summer blockbuster, Jaws. 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. Students will 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.
  • 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, 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 through works including Jean Toomer’s Cane, Claude McKay’s Amiable with Big Teeth, Jessie Redmon Fauset’s Plum Bun; poetry by Langston Hughes, Alice Dunbar Nelson, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and Countee Cullen; short stories by Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, and Charles Johnson; and sections from influential sociologists such as Marcus Garvey, Charles S. Johnson, and W.E.B. Du Bois.
  • Into the Wild

    Poet Gerard Manley Hopkins asks, “What would the world be, once bereft… of wildness?” Hopkins likens the wilderness, strange as it is, to a beloved person with whom the world is most intimately bound. The world needs wilderness, he says, the way a person needs a partner or a parent needs a child. Yet, he also suggests, we are the ones who threaten this beloved, who risk bereaving ourselves of it. Western culture expresses a deep ambivalence toward wilderness. In the Christian West, wilderness has been feared and reviled: it is a den of demons or savages that must be conquered. At the same time, it has been revered, celebrated as the pure expression of God or nature’s creativity. In this course, students are first grounded in Western accounts of origin—Genesis 1, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Darwin’s On the Origin of Species—before turning to great American literary works set in the wilderness—Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown,” Faulkner’s The Bear, Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and either Karen Russell’s Swamplandia or Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder. Toward the end of the semester, the course leaves the American setting to travel east, exploring elements of Hindu philosophy before reading one last novel, Amitov Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide.
  • Latinx: Exploring a Literature that (Re)members Itself

    The haunting refrain from Pixar’s Coco, “remember me,” speaks to anxieties about mortality, leaving behind a legacy, and being part of something larger than oneself, whether an extended family or a recognized body of literature. What is and should be remembered? Who counts as a member of Latinx literature? This term, Latinx, belies a rich history of cultural turmoil, internal and external struggles for definition, cultural and historical relevance, and even dominance. This course examines texts on both sides of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo, from canonical Mexican texts such as Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo and Elena Poniatowski’s Los Recuerdos del Porvenir/Recollections of Things to Come, to recovered literature—the short stories of María Cristina Mena—to contemporary Latinx flash fiction and performance artists such as El Vez and Guillermo Gomez-Peña. The course also studies La Llorona, the Mexican Revolution of 1910, immigration, family, machismo, lesbian poets, DACA, contemporary podcasts, and a documentary about disappeared women.
  • 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. Students read masterly examples of many literary forms, including aphorisms, epigrams, epitaphs, fragments, flash fiction, fables, haiku, villanelles, and perhaps even a tweet or two. The course pays particularly close attention to the most exciting poetic form in English: the sonnet, that fourteen-line miracle of artistic, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual transformation. With each form studied, students sharpen their understanding of how form interacts with content to create rich, complex literary meaning.
  • Literary Monsters

    The landscape of literary tradition is strewn with monstrous beasties both literal and symbolic. The task of this course is to consider this phenomenon and to explore possible 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 us, our deepest fears, our deepest desires? Students read a selection of disparate texts—fairy tales, short stories, Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, several poems, and two plays—to inspire discussions of monsters great, small, strange, and familiar.
  • London Calling

    London has been depicted as the center of many things: of crime, of theatricality, of collections, of modernity, and, perhaps most significantly, of empire. In this course, students explore London as an idea and a setting, touring through a mix of Victorian and contemporary literary works. Victorian texts include short stories by Dickens and Doyle. From the dark, rainy alleys near 221b Baker Street, the course perambulates to Bloomsbury to explore the “beautiful caves” of Virginia Woolf—through her famous novel Mrs. Dalloway and excerpts from her essay collection, A Room of One’s Own—and flies between London and Calcutta, reading Amitov Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines, a postcolonial novel that ties the two cities together. The semester ends with Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, in which characters of Caribbean, Indian, and British descent try to make sense of their place in London during the declining years of the 20th century. London might be decaying, according to all of these authors, but it is also calling.
  • Rebels and Co.

    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 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 the characters we study wrestle with, characters such as a young American who fights in the Spanish Civil War in Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls; a psychopathic con man who tries to rally fellow mental patients to change hospital policy in Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; a jazz musician who struggles for his dignity on the drug-infested streets of Harlem in James Baldwin’s Sonny’s Blues; lovers in modern India who attempt to defy the laws of the age-old caste system in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things; and an African-American woman who lives and loves on her own terms despite the prevailing racism of early twentieth-century America in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes were Watching God.
  • 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,” students 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

    “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? Students investigate these questions and many more in this course on creative writing. The course explores the fundamental elements of fiction—characterization, plot, setting, dialogue, pacing, point of view—and offers exercises designed to develop skills in these areas. Students read stories and novel excerpts from famous writers, analyzing their fiction for technique, learning how writers create the effects they do, and occasionally do written analyses. Most importantly, every student crafts their own fiction. This course is dedicated to creativity and to developing a strong, powerful, and unique literary voice.
  • The Second Self

    Aristotle says that a good friend is a second self and that to be happy, a person needs virtuous friends. But friends can also be rivals, competitors, and sources of envy. In this course, students explore the complex, rewarding, occasionally bewildering nature of friendship, focusing especially on friendships between women. Readings include Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Toni Morrison’s Sula, Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, as well as brief philosophical essays by Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero. The course also involves informal writing assignments, analytical essays, and a personal essay.
  • Up from Slavery

    This course explores two toweringly important novels in twentieth-century African-American literature: Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Both are works of extraordinary verbal artistry and 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 both 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 chronicled the former slave’s heroic journey of ascent from bondage into freedom. The course begins there, with the slave narrative’s leading exemplar, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and continues with works including Herman Melville’s Gothic novella Benito Cereno, Claudia Rankine’s genre-defying Citizen: An American Lyric, and Jordan Peele’s film Get Out.

English

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mens conscia recti

a mind aware of what is right