English Department adjusts curriculum

In accordance with schoolwide efforts to integrate anti-racist education across academic disciplines, the Upper School English department revised its curriculum for the 2020-21 school year. The department implemented a framework to amplify diverse voices and added five new courses this year, while also revising the curriculum to fit the block schedule and the transition to remote learning.

After working on implementing curricular changes for approximately five years, the English department began to discuss specific changes last fall, English teacher and department head Larry Weber said. Since the summer, English teachers have been meeting regularly to explore ways to introduce new perspectives into the curriculum.

English classes will incorporate texts by writers from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds and include more discussions about current events and social issues. Weber said the English department is uniquely poised to implement more inclusive curricular changes.

“As English teachers, we have a rare opportunity to explore those issues because we get to talk with our students all the time about the big questions of life,” Weber said.

Student shares her experience with the new curriculum

Living American Revolutions student Ash Wright ’22 said even though the school year is just starting, she has already noticed positive changes in her English class.

“In terms of [diversity, equity and inclusion], I’ve seen changes in the curriculum in my classroom,” Wright said. “It’s catered to be inclusive and also teach us more about different experiences that we wouldn’t necessarily learn about. The focus is on experiences, which I really like and appreciate. We haven’t gotten to fully see how [diversity, equity and inclusion] is going to play into our English class, but so far, it’s been really good.”

English teacher explains the changes made to the junior and senior curriculum

Weber said English teachers are in the process of reviewing the curricula of the courses they teach. This year, the department added three new senior electives: What’s New, Criminal Minds and Senior Seminar: One Life’s Worth. It also increased the number of English courses available to juniors from two to three in offering Living American Revolutions, Living American Odysseys and English III Honors: American Studies.

“With America being such a crucible for race relations—its identity so enmeshed in the struggle for racial equality and its coming to an important head—[Living American Odysseys] is a great opportunity to deal with this central American identity problem,” Weber said.

In Senior Seminar: One Life’s Worth, Weber said he centers the course around a larger discussion about the current state of human affairs.

“In designing that course [Senior Seminar: One Life’s Worth], I thought, ‘What would be a relevant question to ask of our students, of you?’” Weber said. “That question was, ‘Well, how do we measure the value of the human life and how have we done that and who gets to? What’s the agency in that?”

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