During the first three years of required English courses, students develop their critical thinking, vocabulary, and writing development by examining a wide range of authors and genres.
In the senior year, all courses are considered honors level and are open to every student. There are typically five different classes offered each semester and two year-long courses.
English 9 focuses on writing as a process and on reading culturally diverse works that center on the ways individuals act as part of communities. Students concentrate on the process of developing their essays through such stages as pre-writing, outlining, first and second drafts, peer reviews, and metacritical reflections. Students are introduced to elements of style while also learning how to structure arguable persuasive essays, compelling narratives, and imaginative poems. They acquire the fundamental patterns of critical thinking and the vocabulary necessary for written and spoken analysis of literary texts. Other skills important to a student’s Upper School career, such as discussion skills, note-taking, recitations, and presentations, reinforce the school values of collaboration and community.
English 10 asks two essential questions. How do people write to effect change? How does the act of writing foster growth in the writer? Each of our core texts and assignments helps students develop their critical thinking, reading, writing, presentational, and collaboration skills in order to empower them as change-makers. Reading encompasses different genres: novel, drama, short story poetry forms, and essays. Students develop their persuasive writing skills through formal analyses, peer reviews, self-reflections and an agents of change letter through which students reflect on and become advocates about social issues that matter to them.They also have opportunities for creative writing. Students develop persuasive speaking skills through formal recitations, presentations, discussion leading, and peer review workshops.
English 11 offers an opportunity to study some of the key texts of American literature from the colonial to the contemporary period, with a special focus on the periods of the American Renaissance, the late nineteenth century, and Modernism, and a consistent interrogation of the ways in which categories of gender, race, and social class have inflected the question of what it means to be an American. Readings include selections from Benjamin Franklin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Charles Chesnutt, Edith Wharton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Allen Ginsberg, James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Lan Samantha Chang, Edwidge Danticat, Joy Harjo, and Tommy Orange. The course continues development of students’ analytical abilities by drawing on and extending the interpretive skills developed in English 9 and 10, and also seeks to increase students’ reading speed in anticipation of the demands of college humanities courses. Writing assignments continue the development of narrative and analytical skills, and include a personal narrative designed to aid preparation for the college application essay. Over the course of the year, students continue to develop their presentational abilities; by the end of the year, they are responsible for planning and teaching the majority of class sessions.
American Studies is a field of study that integrates many traditional disciplines into a single search for the answer to the question, “What is an American?” In this course, we will look thematically and chronologically at American lives. What do we see in the Dreamers, the Builders, the Rulebreakers, and the Seekers? How do these individuals reinforce or challenge our ideas about who is an American? How have experiences of colonialism, immigration, enslavement, westward expansion, and urbanization impacted Americans, and how can we better understand these experiences through studying the past and present in dialogue with one another? Where do we see ourselves in this tapestry of American experience? To answer these questions, students are simultaneously enrolled in English and Social Studies classes with common units and work coordinated by the instructors, creating a cultural studies approach to both historical and literary content. We cross disciplines, examining primary and secondary historical texts, literature, film, visual art, and music. We seek to understand not only what happened and what was written, but what it meant to diverse groups of Americans and how it connects to American culture today. Writing assignments continue the development of narrative and analytical skills and will offer the opportunity for some creative writing as well. Over the course of the year, students continue to develop their collaboration, research, presentation, and project-based learning skills, and are responsible for planning and teaching class sessions.
Honors Dialogue for Democracy
What role does journalism play in creating and maintaining a healthy democracy? How might we learn to be more critical media consumers and, in turn, more deeply engaged democratic citizens? What role does and should CatlinSpeak play in the Catlin Gabel community? In this interdisciplinary course, students consider these questions as they learn about the role of journalism as foundational to democracy. Over the course of the year, students study journalistic ethics, interview skills, media analysis, news in the divided digital age, and core journalistic writing conventions. All students who take this class form the CatlinSpeak staff. As writers for CatlinSpeak, students practice pitching, writing, editing, and publishing for an audience. This is an honors-level, yearlong class offering 0.5 Social Studies credit and 0.5 English credit (which can count toward a senior’s spring-semester English course). This course is open to all grade levels and may be taken more than once for credit. Students who take more than one year of the course will be eligible for editorial and other leadership positions.
This Mortal Coil
In the words of Jean-Paul Sartre, “everything has been figured out, except how to live.” In this interdisciplinary seminar, we explore that question from a wide range of perspectives, pulling from the wisdom of the ages, our own lived experiences, and elders and experts in our community. We examine different stages in life, from play and identity development in childhood to reconciling end-of-life scenarios. We read works of philosophy and religion, converse with local faith leaders, and explore the psychological and sociological impact of our collective fear of death. And, we produce biographical and autobiographical works, telling our stories and the stories of others. This course counts for a half-Social Studies credit and a half-English credit. This course is open to all students.
English Teaching Assistant
Teaching assistants are vital contributors to our English classes. TAs attend class each day and work directly with students, co-facilitating class activities and offering 1:1 support to further student skill development. As the term progresses, TAs may assume a greater role in planning class activities and in teaching partial classes. Prerequisite: 11th or 12th grader with consent of the department, with preference given to candidates who have volunteered at Writing Lab or who will do so concurrently with taking this course. Notes: This course does not count towards the English requirement. This course is graded Pass / No Pass.
The Senior English requirement is met through completing fall and spring honors-level semester electives. Fall Senior English includes writing a research paper; in the spring, public collaborative projects are required. Honors Dialogue for Democracy or the Honors Palma Seminar may count toward the spring-semester Senior English requirement. Honors semester electives are open to students in grade 12.
Honors Creative Nonfiction
How can prose writing convey fact, subjectivity, and creativity simultaneously? We explore this question as readers and writers, searching to better understand the history, boundaries, practices, and potential of the prose genre known as “creative nonfiction,” which includes memoir and narrative journalism as well as nature, travel, and food writing. We will study writers, such as Chang-Rae Lee, J. Drew Lanham, Lisa Chavez, Peter Hessler, and Alison Bechdel, whose creative nonfiction aims to explore their identities and understand the world. At the beginning of the course, students will develop research-based interpretations of one book-length text (completed for summer reading). They will continue to explore the genre through student-led discussions about diverse recent essays in the genre, as well as writing exercises inspired by these texts. Students additionally explore the genre through their own creative work: exercises in style, structure, voice, and format give students opportunities to improve their prose and to explore the world around them through the writing process. Finally, students will draft, workshop, revise, expand, and share their own works of creative nonfiction.
Honors Exploring the Long Novel: Reading Great Expectations
Charles Dickens is often accounted the greatest British writer after Shakespeare, and his novel Great Expectations is recognized as one of his richest works: a coming of age story that offers a probing exploration of the issues of class, gender, social change, and power in Victorian Britain, couched in a prose that is sometimes pathetic, more often humorous, but always stunningly inventive. Yet the length and digressive nature of Dickens’ work can make it a challenge for modern readers to tackle. This course aims to give students an opportunity to immerse themselves in Dickens’ world in a supportive and expansive context. We’ll read the book slowly and deliberately (reading assignments will conform to the one-hour guideline for upper class English courses), paying attention to its labyrinthine plotting, its striking characterizations, and its complex prose style. We’ll examine the influence that rapid urbanization, imperialist capitalism, shifting gender roles, and even the business practices of nineteenth-century publishing exerted on the text. And we’ll investigate the book’s critical and creative legacy, looking at how Marxist, feminist, and post-colonial critics have demonstrated the novel’s continuing relevance to the contemporary world, and examining a few of the film and television adaptations it has inspired.
Honors Literary Madness
Literary Madness explores depictions of madness and mental illness from the Western canon and the ancient world to the present. Readings will include poems, short stories, plays, and (excerpts from) longer narratives. Writers may include Euripides, Chrétien de Troyes, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Browning, Bronte, Gogol, Poe, Chesnutt, Woolf, Dostoevsky, Gilman, Tennessee Williams, Plath, Morrison, LiYoung Lee, Natalie Diaz, Chuck Palahniuk, Susanna Kaysen, Irenosen Okojie, Lena Nguyen, and Hualing Nieh. Satyajit Ray’s Monihara, Sylvia Nasar’s A Beautiful Mind and Todd Phillips’ Joker are film possibilities. We will read some clinical and cultural hypotheses about madness, and readings about female “hysteria” and the psychological doubleness caused by racism, to better understand the reasons for creating a sustained literary voice of instability, and to consider its goals and significance.
Honors The Southwest
The Southwest was formed through a rich and turbulent history. As we will see, “the Southwest” has not always been “south” or “west” to its occupants. It contains some of the Western Hemisphere’s oldest living cities, including Taos Pueblo and Acoma Sky City. It has been the site of longstanding civilization, agriculture, artistry, and cultural conflict and fusion. Native American peoples, Spanish explorers, Mexican settlers, and many waves of later immigrants have encountered each other here. As such, we have inherited one of our most vibrant artistic and literary traditions from the Southwest. This course explores Southwestern literature and culture, drawing readings from the works of Leslie Marmon Silko, Sandra Cisneros, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Cormac McCarthy, and Gloria Anzaldua.
Honors Banned Books
This course focuses on works of literature that were banned in the 20th and 21st centuries. Students will examine why these works of literature are banned and explore questions such as: What is so powerful about literature that makes people fear it? Who are the censors trying to protect? What makes a book dangerous? Readings may include Beloved by Toni Morrison, Maus by Art Spiegelman, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.
Honors Monstrous Transformations
In this class, we explore what it means to be human, and what it means to be “civilized.” Can humans claim moral superiority? What does it mean to be a “beast” or “monster”? Human identity depends on boundaries created by factors as diverse as culture, religion, science, race, gender, sexuality, and class, and we will examine how these boundaries are imagined, maintained, crossed, and transgressed in the transformations dramatized in ancient and modern texts, including Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Kafka’s Metamorphosis, and Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Is maintaining these boundaries what makes us human? Or crossing them?
Honors Mystery and Detective Fiction
This course explores the conventions and structure of mystery and detective stories. Students will learn about mystery and detective fiction through literary analysis and creative writing projects. They will also examine and experiment with storytelling techniques that create suspense. Readings may include Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosely, Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie, Indemnity Only by Sarah Paretsky, and selections by Raymond Chandler and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Honors Nature Writing
What is “nature” and how do we experience and write about it? In this course, we examine, as readers and writers, the intertwined concepts of nature, wilderness, and the out-doors through exploring the past and present of American nature writing, including our own. We will trace the history of this genre through the work of writers such as Henry David Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, and Annie Dillard, then turn to more recent writing by authors such as Drew Lanham, Gretchen Legler, Elizabeth Rush, and Bonnie Tsui. These readings will help us to better understand how nature serves as a literal and imaginative space in which to consider questions of identity, including aspects of race and gender, as well as to reckon with pressing cultural issues such as climate change and antiracism. These readings happen in tandem with exercises and activities that offer students opportunities to stretch and grow when exploring and writing about nature. In the latter part of the course, students draft, workshop, revise, expand, and share their own works of nature writing.
Honors Reading and Writing Memoir
Facing the prospects of leaving home and childhood’s end, you may find yourself reflecting on your life to date. The liminal state of the spring-term senior presents a ripe opportunity for memoir. In this course, we explore a range of genres, styles, and techniques evinced in the work of great memoirists. We will focus on memoirs that address the exigencies of difference, drawing from the work of Maxine Hong Kingston, Alison Bechdel, GB Tran, and Sheri Booker. While reading various subgenres of memoir, we will produce our own autobiographical compositions through a term-long writing process. Shorter-term analytical assessments, a creative imitation, and presentation projects will help us engage with and learn from the best in the field. As part of our culminating experience, we will share selections from our stories with the broader Catlin Gabel community.
Honors The Story America Tells Itself about Itself: Exploring the Western Film
The primacy of the Western among American film genres has long been recognized. This course examines the Western film from the beginnings of American movies to the present day. Often dismissed as uniformly simplistic, cliched, and even reactionary, a closer look at the Western reveals that it not only constructs, but often questions and subverts key concepts of American identity and culture. Starting with the form’s origins in the works of James Fenimore Cooper and the Dime Novel, we’ll examine several films from both the classic and current era, teasing out what they tell us about American ideology and contemporary American reality. We’ll examine how the genre addresses issues of individualism and community (Stagecoach, High Noon), race (The Searchers, Buck and the Preacher, Little Big Man), gender (Johnny Guitar, Meek’s Cutoff, The Power of the Dog), and violence (The Wild Bunch, Unforgiven). Students also learn the basics of film analysis, with a special emphasis on elements of mise-en-scene, cinematography, editing, and sound. Class members will decide in the first week of the semester if they wish to commit to a regular weekend screening time when they can watch the films together in Gerlinger Auditorium, or if they wish to stream the films on their own.