The Beaver English Department teaches active reading, writing, reflection, and analysis. In our explorations of language and literature, we encourage students to access both their imaginations and their intellects. As they learn, students develop the means of confidently and skillfully expressing their knowledge, observations, and feelings. We believe that engagement with literature leads students to explore human nature, understand multiple perspectives, question the world around them, and appreciate the power and complexity of language.
Four years of English courses are required for graduation, two terms each year.
In grades 10 through 12, students may elect to take their English course at the honors level by signing a contract. Honors students are expected to be leaders in class discussions, to maintain a high level of enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity, and to demonstrate a superior level of critical analysis in all written work and on honors-specific prompts on assessments. Earning Honors credit requires that after electing Honors and signing the contract, that the student continues to live up to these expectations.
Throughout both the Power and Perspectives trimesters, students read, write, act, create, listen, watch, wonder, debate, and present; they work independently and collaboratively, use their questions as starting points for their work, and employ technology to deepen their learning. Ultimately, they find ways to connect the characters and themes to their own lived experiences and to the world today. Readings can include fiction, non-fiction, memoir, poetry, and drama, and we read some as a full class and others in small groups; students reflect on and question the texts in writing assignments that stretch their skills and imagination, from scripts for Podcasts to analysis of themes to creating a missing chapter. Most days start with independent reading or writing, and grammar and vocabulary are integrated into the week.
Power In this trimester course, we question the nature of power and reflect on the ways we ourselves use our power and respond to power. In our readings, we look at the intersection of power and our characters’ gender, age, race, political beliefs, socio-economic reality, or experience; we wonder about the relationship between power and fate; and we ask why some characters let power compromise their beliefs while others use their power for good.
Perspectives This course is designed to introduce students to the complex nature of perspective in literature. Through the close examination of various texts, students will engage in close reading and critical analysis. They will explore the ways in which different characters and narrators shape and influence the narrative and influence reader engagement. Students will also learn to examine the relationship between form and content, exploring how different writing techniques can influence our understanding of characters and events. In addition to close analysis of texts, students will also engage in discussions, writing assignments and projects that encourage them to reflect on their own perspectives and experiences. Through these activities, students will develop an understanding of the ways in which perspective is shaped by cultural, historical, and personal factors. They will also learn to appreciate the value of diverse perspectives in shaping our understanding of the world. By the end of the course, students will have a deeper understanding of the role of perspective in shaping meaning in literature, and will be equipped with the skills necessary to analyze and engage with texts in a critical and thoughtful manner.
What does it mean to be American? From the perspectives of indigenous people to the revolution that defined our independence to slavery and its legacy to the very cases contended today in the Supreme Court, we address the range of Americanism, the beautiful and the sordid. Students read, debate, create, reflect, act, film, write, craft, and present as ways of asking big questions, answering the questions with specific evidence, and acknowledging the complexities of those answers. Readings include fiction, non-fiction, memoir, poetry, and drama, incorporating texts that we read as a full class and texts that students choose to read in small groups.
American Morality In this course, we turn to great American writers whose work articulates contemporary America, and we use these writings to ask the questions: What does it really mean to be American? What choices did people make and why? How do we wrestle with our past as we consider the ways our characters face their futures?
American Identity There are myriad tangible and intangible ways that we define ourselves — from large scale identifiers like nation and religion, to the little things, like choosing what shoes to wear in the morning. In this term, we look at identity through varied American lenses: through journey, through challenges, through place, and through choices. All of these perspectives ultimately help inform our own perspectives of who we are and why we believe the things we do.
Carlos Fuentes once commented that writing is a “struggle against silence,” while Anais Nin believed people write “to taste life twice.” There is no question that writing is a fundamental human act, but why do people write? What are the various motives that compel people to put pen to paper? How does a writer’s purpose influence the content and style of their writing? These are some of the questions that guide students’ reading and writing of creative non-fiction, including complex non-linear story structures. In the true spirit of the essay, which in the original French means ‘to attempt,’ students are encouraged to experiment with language, probe their beliefs, and incorporate rhetorical devices, in the hopes that they find a voice that resonates with them authentically.
How do books and specifically banned books shape public discourse? How can a conversation about banning books underscore the importance of protecting freedom of expression? Through the examination of banned books, students will gain insight into how censorship and suppression of ideas can affect the development of cultural and political ideologies.
By analyzing why certain books are banned, students will understand how censorship can impact the way society views certain topics and can even shape public opinion. Furthermore, the study of banned books will provide an appreciation for the role of dissenting voices and alternative perspectives in shaping social and political discourse. The examination of these banned works will provide a unique lens into the ways in which people have used literature to challenge dominant cultural narratives and resist oppressive systems of power.
The work of science fiction is imagining what is possible. A necessary part of this undertaking includes deciding how race, gender, and class function in a new world. In this course, we will explore the works of authors such as Octavia Butler, Nnedi Okorafor, N.K. Jemison and Tananarive Due in order to examine how race and gender constructs shift and intersect in new and different ways when characters are forced into radically different situations. We will examine images, film, fiction, and nonfiction. We will read one common text as a class, and students will read additional texts in small reading groups and independently. We will complete reading reflections and write creatively as well as analytically.
What are the stories we tell ourselves about law and order? Starting with the birth of detective fiction, one of the most popular literary genres, and moving to other types of crime stories including pulps and creative nonfiction, we will consider the appeal of stories about grisly murders and trace an arc from a more comfortable belief in the nature of justice to suspicion about police powers. Coinciding with this increased suspicion is a movement away from white detectives and white victims, to crimes targeting people of color, who were legally barred from giving testimony (and thus seeking legal redress) for much of the country’s history. Do stories give us cathartic release when a bad guy is punished? Is there some sort of poetic justice in exposing the inequities of the past even if the murderers have gone free? And what does crime fiction’s popularity suggest about our relationship to our criminal justice system, about our perception of its workings, and about the larger American tenet of equality before the law?
When was the last time you were responsible for picking your reading for a course? At the beginning of this class, you will generate a list of books you want to read, and then you will campaign for your favorite; after the campaign season ends, you’ll vote, and several books will win. We’ll spend the term reading them, examining them for character, theme, structure, style, and message. How does choosing the text intersect with investment in the reading? Is the text a great book? Ultimately, you decide whether the books deserve spots on the shelf and how you go about choosing your next read. You will respond to the reading in various forms of writing, class discussions, projects, and presentations.
Previous winners: 1984, Room, Lolita, Brave New World, Catch 22, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Lord of the Flies, Scarlet Letter, On the Road, The Kite Runner, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Gone Girl, Fight Club.
Did you like the movie or the book better? Is this a sensible question, or are we being asked to compare unlike genres? In this course we will investigate these two art forms, comparing the narrative possibilities — and limitations — of each. How do these modes of storytelling differ in terms of their effects? What can film achieve that a novel or play cannot, and vice versa? What is lost in the translation of literature into film, and what makes a “good” adaptation? We will read novels and plays, and we will study a film based on each. You will think and write critically about how these stories are told on the printed page and on the screen, analyzing the cultural impact of each medium.
For millennia, humans have had a unique and ever-shifting relationship with their food. From growing vegetables in the soiled ground to buying a Big Mac at the drive-through, we all relate to and connect with food and tastes in varied ways. Additionally, from Marcel Proust to Helen Rosner to Mark Bittman, chefs and authors have explored what we eat, how we eat, and how our relationship with food matters. In this class, we will read, write, cook, and eat. We will examine the politics of food, food insecurity, and how our relationship to what we eat and how we eat informs, nourishes, and shapes our lives.
What is money’s place in society? What is the correlation between money and power? What do money and power reveal about inequity in society? Everything from politics to education to professional sports to technology to the economy to media sends, reinforces, and challenges messages about money and power, and in this class students will examine these intersections and consider their own roles in the systems around them. Students will read fiction and non-fiction, write, watch, and listen; and question, research, collaborate, and present.
As Ursula Le Guin said, “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” Why is that? What makes a journey an adventure, and why do journeys seem to yield so much challenge and disaster and surprise and beauty? Whose road trips are allowed and whose aren’t? Together, through novels, film, history, politics, and art, we’ll explore everything from the archetypes to the dangers to the history of ‘hitting the road’ to the road itself. These are indelible stories, and we hope you join us for the ride.
How do the stories that we write change when we know that they will be interpreted visually and audibly? In this course, students will craft compelling narratives written in the form of scripts. At least once a week, this class will meet in collaboration with Video Production. Together, we will view and critique film and brainstorm and workshop ideas, and students in Video Production will work with students in Screenwriting to adapt their screenplays to film. With an emphasis on dialogue and indirect characterization, students will learn how to use screenwriting programs to develop short films or television episodes. Over the course of the term, students will storyboard, pitch, workshop, iterate, and see their ideas be reinterpreted through the production and acting of fellow collaborators. Think you have the next great idea for a (short) screenplay? Now is your chance to give it life.
How does something so small pack such a big punch? Such is the nature of a short story. You’ll hone in on story elements by investigating a variety of stories and writers. Everyone has a story to tell. You’ll experiment with turning your own stories into short fiction, and you will continue to develop analytical essay writing skills.
Each of us has an inner world of images, memories, and dreams. This internal landscape holds unlimited possibilities for storytelling. This course will help you explore your personal mythology, discover your own voices, and polish your writing skills. Through a variety of exercises, you will shape memory and imagination into elements of the short story: character, setting, dramatic structure, point of view, and theme. You will workshop your work both in class and by making use of Buzzword, a web-based program that offers a comprehensive editing platform.
Possible texts: stories and essays by Angelou, Boyle, Burnham, Cheever, Cunningham, Fondation, Forché, Miller, Minot, Oppenheimer, Painter, Salinger, Shae, Tolstoy, Updike, and Wolff.