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English Courses


After Class IV, in which all students take the same English course, students may choose from among several electives offered in each of the remaining three years. Students new to Milton make this choice shortly after they decide to enroll, in consultation with the Registrar’s Office. Returning students make a choice for the following year in consultation with their current English teacher.

Class IV English

This course emphasizes basic skills in reading and interpreting major literary genres; in writing clear, coherent exposition; and in developing a shared vocabulary for talking about writing and about literature. Texts include a Shakespeare play, anthologies of short fiction and poetry, and examples of personal narrative. In addition to its focus on literary analysis, the course includes a comprehensive survey of grammar and writing skills that are applied to and practiced in students’ writing throughout the year.

Class III Electives

The department offers four courses: Perspectives, Founding Voices, Performing Literature, and Seeing Literature. Each of these courses is of comparable difficulty with similar amounts of writing. All students in Class III read Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex and Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The following descriptions illustrate the content of each course in more detail.

Perspectives: Genre & Culture
Examining texts grouped by genre—short story, novel, play, and poem—to create a basis for comparison, students will explore how different cultural contexts treat major literary themes such as coming of age, tragedy, love, and the individual versus society. At the forefront of essays and class discussions will be the question of how a broad spectrum of cultures, eras, and traditions shape universal human stories. A typical unit, for example, may examine short stories about coming of age from three distinct countries, or love poetry from three different centuries. Texts might include titles such as The Nick Adams Stories, Drown, The Things They Carried, and The Dew Breaker.

Founding Voices: Literature from the Ancient World through the Renaissance
This course will explore texts that have shaped the world’s literature and influenced writers and readers from early times to the present. Through units on epic heros, drama, short-form poetry, and storytelling, we will discuss themes such as the hero’s journey, the ethical implications of cultural values, and the role of the individual in the world. After summer reading, the course will begin with Gilgamesh, the oldest story in the world, and will likely include texts such as Homer’s Odyssey, The Ramayana, The Sundiata, Dante’s Inferno, Tang Dynasty poetry, and The One Thousand and One Arabian Nights.

Performing Literature
The readings in this course present a mixture of classical and modern works from the major literary genres. The course covers the same writing curriculum as the other Class III electives; what distinguishes it is the addition of oral interpretation. In addition to writing about the literature, students will perform it by conducting poetry readings, staging scenes, and writing and speaking in the voice of individual characters. When possible, students will read the plays being presented on the Milton Academy stage or in Boston theaters and analyze those performances.

Seeing Literature
From the imagery of a poem to the point of view of a short story or novel, literature often encodes in words important visual messages and commentary on human perspective. This course examines a diverse raft of literary works with special attention to the perspectival project within literature. With traditional books at the forefront, the course will also use paintings, films, and graphic novels to deepen understanding of the human complexities of seeing at the heart of each text, as well as to embrace the reading and writing goals of the Class III curriculum. Titles may include The Handmaid’s Tale, Maus, and Persepolis.

Class II Electives

Contemporary Literature in Context
This course guides students in approaching literature from a number of analytical perspectives. Beginning with close reading—the detailed examination of a variety of texts for what the language will yield—the course moves to grouping texts by genre, by common theme, by historical period, and by a single author. In the late spring, the class applies all of these approaches to a single work, studying the text closely while also considering its form and theme, the period from which it came, and the influence of events in the author’s life. Past units include Hemingway, civil rights, the feminist movement, and the Vietnam War.

Literature and the Human Condition
Pursuing a broad inquiry into what it means to be a person, to form relationships, to make decisions, and to live with their consequences, students examine literature from multiple traditions and genres. This discussion-based class delves into topics such as heroism and villainy; self and other; and innocence, guilt, and redemption. Students explore their ideas about the course’s themes in critical essays, personal essays, and creative responses. Much of the fall encompasses a student of John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost. Other writers in recent years have included Toni Morrison, Arundati Roy, Charlotte Bronte, William Shakespeare, and Haruki Murakami.

American Literature
This course is a survey of American literature, presenting an overview of American culture through its literary figures. The form and content of the readings offer great variety, and students’ written responses range from straightforward literary criticism to creative imitations of styles. Texts may include The Scarlet Letter, Love Medicine, and Their Eyes Were Watching God. Students who take United States History in the Class II year find that the two courses complement each other.

People and the Natural World
This course explores varied human responses to the natural world through literature selected for its provocative response to nature and the ways in which people mark their presence on the land. The tension between urban and rural visions will help students understand ideas of the wilderness and of the city in the human imagination and the ways in which memory and imagination help define place in the world. Literature ranges from novels, poetry, and essays to explorers’ journals and diaries. The course includes contemporary authors such as Leslie Marmon Silko and Annie Dillard as well as older writers such as Henry David Thoreau and William Faulkner. Writing assignments will range from nature journals to essays of literary analysis and response papers.

Studies in English and American Literature
(Two-Year Sequence)
This course introduces students to major English and American writers and demonstrates the connections between English and American literary traditions. Structured chronologically, it begins with the major writers in England who form the basis for all subsequent developments. The second and third semesters of the sequence emphasize the similarities and dissimilarities of British and American writers and some ways in which they influenced each other and were influenced by their cultures. In scope, the course studies works of some 30 writers, from Chaucer through Virginia Woolf, in a year and a half. In the second semester of the Class I year, students study some modern and postmodern dramas, and then subdivide into specialized groups to study 20th-century texts by a limited number of writers.

Reading Consciousness
What makes us human? Is it our body, our soul, our consciousness? Through an interdisciplinary study of literature, philosophy, and religion, this course will investigate and interrogate our notions of humanity from antiquity to the contemporary era. By exploring topics such as the institution of slavery, the struggle for human rights, and the nature of spiritual transcendence, students will develop an understanding of the evolving definition of the human and insert their own voices into the current debate. Assessments may include critical essays, personal reflections, student-led discussions, and creative work. Readings will come from a diverse range of authors and thinkers, including Ralph Ellison, Charlotte Brontë, Harriet Jacobs, Kazuo Ishiguro and Plato.

Class I Electives

The Craft of Non-Fiction
This course is designed for students interested in the craft of writing and who wish to write about ideas, personal experience, and the sort of general interest topics (e.g., the arts, medicine, sports, nature, science, education) that appear in magazines such as The New Yorker and The Atlantic. It addresses three different genres of non-fiction: the feature article, a 4,000-word piece of investigative reporting; the essay of ideas, a 1,500-word reflective essay; and the memoir, a 4,000-word personal narrative. In each genre, students first read models and complete short, experimental writing assignments. The course differs from other Class I English courses in its high ratio of writing to reading and in its requirement that students revise each major piece of work to a high standard of professionalism. Critique by peers is an essential part of the writing process; students should expect to share their work with the class and to read and comment on the work of their classmates.

We begin our philosophical journey with The Magus, the course’s required summer reading. On the island of Phraxos in 1953, the mysteries of Bourani become the thematic and artistic questions of the course. Exploring the myths, creeds, and psychological and scientific principles that we live by in the Western world, we move from our encounters with freedom and truth to 19th- and 20th-century fiction. Continuing our historical and thematic exploration, we examine the fictions that man lives by as we study modern and contemporary literature. Reading selections vary from year to year. The following is a sample of works taught recently: American Pastoral, Oryx and Crake, The Road, Beloved, Body and Soul, Kafka on the Shore, and A Farewell to Arms.

Intersectionality: Womanhood in American Culture
In the early 1980s, two key texts confronted our nation with a powerful question: If all the women are white, and all of the people of color are men, who is left out? The anthologies This Bridge Called My Back (1981) and Some of Us Are Brave (1982) highlighted the need for voices from women of color in feminist dialogue and inspired legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw to coin the term “intersectionality”: a position at the cross-section of gender and race, occupied by Black women in particular and, in more contemporary application, women of color in general. This interdisciplinary course in literature and feminist theory examines the interventions of American women who identify as Black, Latina, Native, and Asian into a discourse that excluded them through identity and class. It also considers how those interventions redefine American feminism for not only women of color but also their white counterparts. Assessments will include critical essays, personal reflections, and creative work. In addition to the anthologies and the writing of Crenshaw, readings may also include works from Audre Lorde, Yuri Kochiyama, Gloria Anzaldúa, Adrienne Rich, and Louise Erdrich.

Literature & the Nature of Reality
This course looks at a variety of texts that explore, question, and prod at the boundaries of the nature of reality. In studying novels, plays, movies, short stories, and poems, we look not only at ideas in literature, but also at theories in psychology, science, morality, language theory, and art. The class is divided into thematic units, though many texts will cross from one theme into others. Central to the class are the big questions: What is real? How do we judge reality? How and why does literature explore it? Possible authors include Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges, Toni Morrison, Michael Frayn, Tony Kushner, Luigi Pirandello, Adrienne Rich, Tom Stoppard, and Virginia Woolf.

Modern Comparative Literature
The course begins with summer reading of Dickens and Dostoevsky, two writers who were contemporaries but wrote in very different styles. Dostoevsky anticipates much of what is thought to be “modern” in the arts. From his example, students move to Kafka—who casts the longest shadow over modern literature—James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Albert Camus. The last three writers of the fall term, Gabriel García Márquez, J.M. Coetzee, and Toni Morrison, writing in the postmodern era, face the question of what artists do to distinguish their work when earlier authors seem to have tried everything. In the spring semester, students trace the same evolution of style and content in drama, immersing themselves in sixteen plays ranging from Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg in the late-19th century to contemporary playwrights Suzan Lori Parks and Caryl Churchill; the class meets in King Theatre so that students can see plays in performance rather than on the page. During the spring project period, students will study film; in past years, subjects have included film noir, the changing image of women in film, five great directors, great examples of five film genres, and five autobiographical films.

Philosophy & Literature
This course investigates theories about the nature of humanity and moral philosophy, emphasizing a reasoned approach to thinking about complex and abstract problems. Topics include the basis of human knowledge, questions of freedom and determinism, the nature of evil, the nature of moral and aesthetic judgment, and the definition of social and political justice. Each unit takes its form around a main literary text and complementary philosophical readings. Students read traditional philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, and Kant as well as more modern thinkers such as Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud. Titles may include Alan Lightman’s Einstein’s Dreams, Primo Levi’s The Drowned and the Saved, Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter, and Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure.

In this course, students read a dozen of Shakespeare’s plays, including comedies, tragedies and histories, excluding those normally studied in previous years at Milton. Though the course touches on historical context and linguistic development, its main emphasis is on the plays as theater—the creativity they continue to stimulate in actors and directors and the response they continue to evoke from audiences. In addition to reading and writing (both critical and creative), the class compares movie versions, engages in impromptu performances, and may attend live theater as the opportunity presents itself. A self-designed project each semester gives students the chance to pursue in depth their interests in scholarship, art, photography, video production, music, theater design, and other fields.

Themes in Contemporary World Literature
In this course, we read 21st-century texts that pose challenging questions about the global context in which we live today. Themes we explore include: globalization, citizenship, the climate crisis, immigration, colonization, and identity. Because of the contemporary nature of this course, readings change frequently. Students may expect to read texts from at least four different regions within the year. Regions include but are not limited to: the Caribbean, South Asia, East Asia, West Africa, South America, Native American nations, and the Middle East. Assessments in this course offer students choice in their style of writing and self-expression and will focus on developing skills in voice, revision, and self-directed work.

Three Writers in Depth
By limiting the number of writers we study, this course allows students to examine each writer longer and more intensively than is possible in other courses. Opportunities presented by the course include following the evolution of an author’s style and choice of subject matter and theme; exploring one author’s approach to different literary genres; and placing an author in historical and biographical context. Written work consists of both critical essays and creative pieces, perhaps using as inspiration the style or thematic content of the works being studied. The teacher selects the first two writers; after the school year has begun, teacher and students together will select the third. The following list suggests the stature of the writers likely to be chosen: W.H. Auden, Jane Austen, James Baldwin, Samuel Beckett, Joseph Conrad, Dante, George Eliot, William Faulkner, Robert Frost, Gabriel García Márquez, Ernest Hemingway, Henrik Ibsen, Henry James, James Joyce, Toni Morrison, Haruki Murakami, Lynn Nottage, Eugene O’Neill, Jonathan Swift, Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, William Carlos Williams, Virginia Woolf, and W.B. Yeats.

We Are What We Read
“You must write, and read, as if your life depended on it,” Adrienne Rich writes. In this course, students will read fiction and write several personal, creative, and analytical essays examining the intersection of the literature and the reader reading and how literature works when we feel, as Emily Dickinson has said, “as if the top of [our] head were taken off.” We will ask how we read the texts, and how the texts read us. The work includes a rereading of a resonant novel of the student’s choice, fiction (shorter and longer), possibly including Virginia Woolf, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ernest Hemingway, Danzy Senna, Martin Amis, Jane Austen, Michael Ondaatje, and Haruki Murakami, and poetry, contemporary and not. Additionally, we will read essayists writing about reading, including Rich, Joyce Carol Oates, Andre Dubus, James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, and others. A final project will involve students’ examinations of a small body of work by a single author of each student’s choice.

The English electives that follow do not fulfill the diploma requirement in English and must be taken in addition to a full English course.

(Half Course)
Classes I & II
By devoting a full year to the play that is widely regarded as the greatest in English, this course, team-taught by a member of the English Department and a member of the Performing Arts Department, offers students several unique opportunities: to enjoy the in-depth study of a single text, with no pressure to move on; and to experience fully the richness that a very complex literary text provides; to approach a Shakespeare play actively by performing, directing and designing parts of the text, and in doing so discover a full range of possible interpretation; to join the literate world in knowledge and appreciation of a classic work; to explore the deep personal resonances that this work, perhaps more than any other, always seems to evoke; to gain familiarity with the problems and processes of literary scholarship.

Most class time is spent reading and discussing Hamlet and comparing different film versions. Students, individually or in groups, formulate long-term projects that they complete during homework time. Projects, which may be critical or creative, have covered a broad range, including theater design, filmmaking, creative writing, textual analysis, memorization and performance, graphic art, psychology, music, and research into the play’s historical and literary background.

(Half Course)
Classes II & III
In today’s digital and highly saturated media environment, students need to learn media literacy early; they need to understand the role of journalists and the role a free press plays in a democracy. In this course, students will learn how to gather facts, conduct interviews, research background material, and craft and edit news stories. We will examine the differences between hard news coverage, feature pieces, and opinion pieces and write in all three styles. We will also learn how today’s newsrooms work; they aim for noble purposes, but most are for-profit businesses, so we will discuss that balance. We will cover the basics of communication law, exploring questions such as: What is freedom of speech? Freedom of the press? Libel? We will examine media in all its forms—print, television/video, radio/podcasts, and social media—comparing and contrasting how current events are covered, looking at what’s effective and what’s not. Working journalists will visit class periodically to discuss their work.

“It was all a dream…”: The Power of Poetry through Close Reading & Analysis
(Half Course)
Classes I, II, & III
This course is geared towards students who have a deep interest in poetry and its many forms and want to expand their repertoire of rhetorical devices. This course will push students to dig deep into the text through close reading strategies that refine their analytical writing. We will also explore the ways in which poetry both captures and transcends time through its influence on popular culture.

Project Story: Narrative Journalism & Performance
(Half Course)
Classes I, II, & III
From competitive story slams performed for packed venues to storytelling courses designed to empower workplace professionals, sharing narrative with live audiences has never felt more current or relevant. In this course, students will study the art of storytelling through moving their own and others’ stories from page to stage. During the first half of the course, students will learn narrative journalism skills, performance skills, and peer workshop practice, to collect and shape stories of our school. They will work collaboratively during the second half of the course to identify, research, write, and perform a story that originates beyond Milton Academy. Throughout the year, students will read and view storytelling models, attend performances, and hear from visiting artists and activists who promote storytelling around the country, believing that shared stories strengthen and sustain human connection. (This course is listed under both the English and Performing Arts departments.)

Creative Writing
Satisfies Arts Program Requirement
Classes I, II, & III
This course offers workshops in shaping ideas, personal observations, and memories into fiction and poetry. It teaches techniques of each genre and employs frequent reading and discussion of student works within the class.

Advanced Creative Writing
(Half Course)
Meeting twice a week in a format that consists of a writers’ workshop and individual conferences, this course provides the student-writer the opportunity to continue to develop talents. (Prerequisites: Creative Writing and permission of the creative writing teachers.)

Advanced Creative Writing 2
(Half Course)
This course allows those who have completed Advanced Creative Writing to continue working in the same format. (Prerequisites: Advanced Creative Writing and permission of the creative writing teachers.)

Note: Advanced Creative Writing and Advanced Creative Writing 2 may be offered as semester courses should there be sufficient interest and with permission of the department chair.

Language Skills

Classes III & IV
Exposition, designed for students in Classes III and IV who desire intensive instruction in the principles and practice of expository writing, focuses on developing the skills necessary for clear, correct, and forceful argument-driven writing of the sort required by all disciplines at Milton. The course includes a thorough study of grammar, an introduction to fundamental concepts about writing, and a series of both short and long essays aimed at helping students learn to write in a step-by-step process that includes planning, drafting, revising, and editing. Writing assignments ask students to craft different types of essays about subjects of interest to themselves. The course reinforces skills introduced in Class IV English and highlights essay structures emphasized in Class III.