The mission of the English department is to give students the capacity to deeply experience literature from a variety of genres and periods and to use those experiences as the material of consequential thought. We view the language arts – reading, writing, speaking, and listening – as a form of thinking that puts inquiry and communication into an overlapping relationship. The knowledge one gains through literary studies is social: knowledge arises when one openly encounters another mind, it deepens when one attempts to articulate what was learned to an audience, and it comes to fruition when it becomes the impetus for a new encounter. Literature, taken broadly, uniquely provides a space in which an individual can essay ethical, intellectual, and social action, while developing the essential communication skills required of a global citizen.
The aim of Middle School English is to expand the range of literary works that a student can fully experience while developing authentic communication skills. Entering into a literary work – whether a poem, novel, play, film, or essay – requires broad knowledge, extensive vocabulary, familiarity with generic codes and historical context, and above all a capacious theory of what both literature and literary studies can do. As students explore a broad range of texts from different periods and genres, they gradually acquire the vocabulary and background that they will require for more advanced intellectual work.
The focus in these courses is on giving students the tools to let them imaginatively enter into notable texts from both the ancient and modern world. The goal is to allow them to “transport” themselves to different worlds and see through different eyes. The non-cognitive dimensions (and benefits) of reading are particularly emphasized, encouraging students to become more empathetic, more tolerant of ambiguity, and better able to understand the viewpoints of others. Writing goals for this sequence focus on the foundational skills of informative summary, interpretive summary, and descriptive argument.
In the Upper School, students have increasing opportunities to pursue a more individualized course of study, selecting periods and genres that are of particular interest, while still meeting the general requirements that undergird a successful life after high school. While focused on argumentative analysis and careful close reading, students also have ample chances to pursue inquiry through creative writing.