Broaden English horizons

A student interested in languages, science or history can double up on electives and non-mainstream classes, selecting from a wide array of choices.

But students with an interest in English have only two choices: Shakespeare and Creative Writing. Thankfully, these courses come from different ends of the spectrum of the study of literature: in one, students study in-depth the work of one writer and in the other, students create their own work, finding their own voice.

These course electives, however well-crafted, should only be considered the start.

The 10th and 11th grade courses offer student tastes of different types of literature. But when Dickinson or Whitman influences a student, sparking a passion for poetry, what can they do? Start an independent study? Wait until the teacher brings up another poem as a supplement to the designated work of literature? Where is the avenue for this student with a budding interest in poetry?

At Marlborough, seniors are given 11 one-semester course options: African Literature, Anna Karenina, Bible as Literature, Contemporary Writing, Dramatic Literature, Gender Sexuality, Jane Austen, Latin American Literature in Translation, Modernism and The 21st Century Novel. Seniors who have taken two of these courses are credited with having taken AP English Language. (They take AP English Literature as Juniors.)

“Our seniors really like the variety of our electives, and the faculty love teaching them because they represent faculty passions,” Marlborough’s English Department Head Joseph Koetters said. “As teachers we were happy to see students get whatever benefit the AP label gives the girls while keeping our elective format, which we feel is the right way to end a student’s time in our program.”

This system, Koetters said, has been approved by both the UC system and the College Board.

The English department should give students a wider variety in classes or electives.

Either the department should add more electives like Shakespeare and Creative Writing into the already existing curriculum, or it should adapt something akin to Marlborough’s system and change senior year classes.

By the time students have finished two years with the upper school English department, they are ready to choose courses that cater specifically to their interests and passions. This is something they will be doing at universities in one year. Why not allow them to begin here?

We understand that all the English teachers are currently teaching at maximum capacity: students have to take English for all three years, and class sizes have to be small. So, change might be slow, and ultimately, after the English department discusses this, they could instead conceive an entirely different option for the curriculum. The point is that change needs to be discussed. There should be as many options for lovers of English as there are for history and science.