"We prepare students to engage in the world that is and to help bring about a world that ought to be."
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The English Department aspires to teach students to read and write with accuracy, clarity, and elegance; to think logically, analytically, and imaginatively; and to engage in respectful and productive conversations. Meeting for Worship provides a model for our classrooms by encouraging us to listen, to use silence effectively, and to be open to inspiration. Students are taught in heterogeneously grouped classes. In small and large discussion groups, they work cooperatively on tasks ranging from deciphering a puzzling phrase to analyzing a metaphor to discussing the morality of characters and the moral stances of narrators and authors. Our students learn that a great work of literature is worth the time it takes to read—and reread—and that fine writing is worth the significant effort it takes to produce.
The study of literature plays a distinctive role in teaching students about the diversity of human relations and cultures and in educating them to become citizens of increasingly heterogeneous communities; thus, the English program is an important part of what educates Friends students to “engage in the world that is” and to imagine “a world that ought to be.” Students encounter characters with whom they can identify and narratives that affirm their experiences as well as those that expand their understanding of worlds unfamiliar to them. As students contemplate the story of a character or community initially strange to them, they better understand differences and uncover surprising commonalities. If they carry these lessons from literature to life, then studying literature furthers our School’s mission.
The sequence of English courses 5-12, appropriately demanding at each level, provides students with a firm grounding in many facets of the study of English—grammar, vocabulary, reading comprehension, literary history and analysis, prosody, and writing in various genres. The curriculum, developed over decades, includes common texts and skills for each grade level to ensure that students in different sections receive the same basic training. The English Department develops methods and materials, including study guides and model essays, for showing our students what constitutes accurate reading, lively interpretation, sound argument, and clear writing. In doing so, we try to counter the enduring perception that every interpretation of a text can be valid. We believe that students can learn the skills of keen observation, logical interpretation, and argument development and that these skills will make them better readers and better citizens.
  • Creative Writing

    Creative Writing is a semester-long workshop focusing on the short story form. Students are asked to read exemplary short stories from a range of authors including Lucia Berlin, Franz Kafka, Flannery O’Connor, and Jorge Luis Borges. They will then respond to a prompt based on some structural or thematic element of a story with a short work of their own. In their work, students are encouraged to experiment with form, genre, and style. At the end of the semester each member submits a polished final story to the workshop for feedback. The revised final stories are then compiled into a collection designed by the students.

    2 periods/cycle
    One semester course (Fall and Spring) – 1 credit      
  • English 12: Despair & Redemption

    All English 12 courses begin with the study of Sophocles’ Oedipus the King and Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  Thereafter, individual courses vary depending on the interests and expertise of the teacher.

    In the very first lines of Dante’s Inferno, Dante describes the plight of his pilgrim: “Midway on our life’s journey, I found myself/ in dark woods, the right road lost” (1-3). Dante imagines his pilgrim lost in a literal and figurative forest searching for the “right road” that will allow him to emerge from the “sleep” that led him “to blunder/ off the true path” (9-10). In Dante’s three-part long narrative poem, The Divine Comedy, that quest for the “true path” will take the pilgrim through hell, into purgatory, and finally to paradise. Although he will experience the Light at the end of Paradiso, the journey there is fraught with confusion, doubt, loss, and failure. In the fall, we will focus on how three protagonists, Oedipus in Sophocles’ classic Greek Tragedy Oedipus Rex, Hamlet in Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet, and Dante the pilgrim in The Divine Comedy, experience despair and fumble towards redemption. If we have time, we may read a selection of the following texts: Joyce’s Dubliners, Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych, Euripides’ Medea, and Andrew Solomon’s The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression.
    In the spring, despair and the possibility of redemption, for both the individual and society, will shape our discussion of four works of twentieth-century literature. One Hundred Years of Solitude is often considered a postmodern masterpiece for, in the words of the critic John Barth, its masterful “synthesis of straightforwardness and artifice, realism and magic and myth, political passion non-political artistry, characterization and caricature, and humor and terror.” We will conclude our year by reading three modernist texts that García Márquez identifies as influencing his work: Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury.
    4 periods/cycle
    Full year course - 4 credits

  • English 12: Fictions of Inheritance

    All English 12 courses begin with the study of Sophocles’ Oedipus the King and Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  Thereafter, individual courses vary depending on the interests and expertise of the teacher.

    Inherited stories—stories from and about parents and ancestors, ghostly voices from the past—can powerfully affect a person’s choices and self-perception.  In this section of English 12, students will begin with an investigation of two classic tragedies, OedipusRex and Hamlet, in which such spectral voices wield powerful influence. The class will consider the problems the title characters face navigating their relationships with parents and consider the ways in which characters’ fates and identities are affected by the legacies of their families.

    The class will then jump to a twentieth-century American context and focus on two novels that investigate the way that family histories affect protagonists on the cusp of adulthood. In Philip Roth'
    s The Ghost Writer and Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon characters wrestle with the competing legacies represented by their families, their deeper ancestry as Jews or Africans, the violent interruptions of those legacies by the Holocaust and slavery, and the protagonists’ identities as Americans. This study of inheritance broadens with an investigation of form in the graphic novels Maus by Art Spiegelman and Fun Home by Alison Bechdel.

    Finally, the class will turn to a study of two American novels from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century—Herman Melville’s Billy Budd and Willa Cather’s The Professor’sHouse—in which questions of inheritance are also questions about the formation of an American national identity.
    4 periods/cycle
    Full year course - 4 credits
  • English 12: Home & Exile

    All English 12 courses begin with the study of Sophocles’ Oedipus the King and Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  Thereafter, individual courses vary depending on the interests and expertise of the teacher.

    This course will consider the values given to home and homeland and the ways that those values are brought into relief or question by moments of crisis. We will begin by reading two tragedies about royal families whose family drama is inseparable from a crisis in the state as investigations into the late king’s death make clear: Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Shakespeare’s Hamlet. We will then take a closer look at the forms and consequences of various kinds of domestic tensions in a modern play, Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, and a classic film, Yasujirō Ozu’s Late Spring.

    In the second semester, we will read three novels that pursue three very different sets of experiences of homesickness and home-making. While
    Pale Fire's Charles Kinbote, having emigrated to America, struggles to fit in, the narrator of James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, an American in France, is troubled by the ways he has come to fit into a particular Parisian scene. Lastly, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway pairs the story of a woman planning a party with the tale of a shell shocked and desperate veteran. We shall also read poems that explore complicated and difficult loves and family legacies in Sharon Olds’s The Dead and the Living and Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds.

    4 periods/cycle
    Full year course - 4 credits

  • English Seminar:

    Description Pending

    Semester Course (Spring) - 2 credits
  • English Seminar: Intro to the Literature of Toni Morrison

    Upon accepting the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature, Toni Morrison told a story of children who visit an old blind woman, an American daughter of slaves.  Endeavoring to test the blind woman’s reputation for being clairvoyant, they ask her whether the bird in their hand is dead or alive.  When she answers that she doesn’t know if it’s dead or alive but does know that it’s in their hands, a deep silence follows.  The annoyed children plead: “You, old woman, blessed with blindness, can speak the language that tells us what only language can: how to see without pictures.  Language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names.”
    This seminar is an opportunity to study the literature of Toni Morrison by reading her work, deeply and widely, while considering what Morrison’s “language alone” offers.  We will read novels that span Morrison’s career, including The Bluest Eye (1970), Beloved (1987), and A Mercy (2008).  We also will read selections of Morrison’s essays on literature and politics as well as her play Desdemona (2011), which imagines the relationship of Othello’s doomed wife with her “Barbary,” or African, nursemaid.
    Morrison’s work is not for the faint of heart.  When reading Morrison we will face the ugliest aspects of America’s history and the human capacity for cruelty and evil even as we are reminded of the human capacity for creativity, resilience, and goodness.  In The Source of Self-Regard Morrison observes, “Certain kinds of trauma visited on peoples are so deep, so cruel, that unlike money, unlike vengeance, even unlike justice, or rights, or the goodwill of others, only writers can translate such trauma and turn sorrow into meaning, sharpening the moral imagination” (ix).  The brilliance and generosity of Morrison’s writing, especially when read and discussed in the community of a seminar, will help us to sharpen our moral imaginations and will give us the courage to do so.
    Students will read closely and regularly, participate in and lead class discussions, and respond to Morrison’s work in analytic and fiction writing of their own.

    Semester Course (Fall) - 2 credits
  • Journalism

    Journalism is a one semester elective that teaches students how to write short and long form journalism. Students will study journalistic ethics and First Amendment issues as they report, write and edit pieces for the school newspaper, The Insight, or for their own sites. They are encouraged to pitch articles relating to their own interests in the fields of politics, culture, sports, and science, in addition to receiving writing assignments from the teacher. Each student is required to write one long-form piece of journalism (1000 words or more) and publish at least two articles in the newspaper. Enrollment in the class is not a requirement to write for The Insight.
  • English 9

    Of signal importance to literature in English, the Bible is the centerpiece of the ninth-grade curriculum. Students are introduced to a number of translations, from the King James Version to Robert Alter’s.  As they encounter biblical allusions, themes, and analogs, students begin to understand how writers can be in conversation with each other across centuries and continents. With an emphasis on how accurate observations of a text lead to the most imaginative interpretations, we continue to develop literary-critical skills. Through vocabulary building, instruction in grammar, and regular, varied writing assignments, we give students a foundation for more advanced study of English language and literature.

    Common Texts: Readings from the Bible and William Shakespeare’s Macbeth

    Other texts may include Sophocles’ Antigone, James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, and Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping.
    4 periods/cycle
    Full year course – 4 credits 
  • English 10: Literature of the British Empire

    Tenth graders begin their study of British literature with a brief introduction to the origins of the English language. Students learn the formal qualities of poetry, including scansion, figures of sound and speech, and poetic form. Building on the basic grammar they studied in ninth grade, students learn the functions of subordinate clauses, gerunds, participles, and infinitives. Students are thereby prepared for the serious study of British literature by authors as various as Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, and Jane Austen. In the spring, tenth graders expand their study of British literature to include colonial and postcolonial texts that demonstrate further how wide-reaching and complicated the field of British literature has become over the last thousand years.
    Common Texts: Selections from Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, William Shakespeare’s Othello or The Tempest, Jane Austen’s Persuasion or Pride and Prejudice, and a selection of colonial and postcolonial literature.
    Other texts may include Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, James Joyce’s Dubliners,, Athol Fugard’s Master Harold and the Boys, Aimé Césaire’s A Tempest, Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place, and essays by Jamaica Kincaid, George Orwell, and Jonathan Swift.

    4 periods/cycle
    Full year course – 4 credits 

  • English 11: Intro to American Literature

    Beginning with selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Martin Luther King, Jr., English 11 focuses on the challenge of self-reliance within a community. The course emphasizes reading accurately at the sentence level—whether reading nineteenth-century essays or twentieth-century fiction. The more closely students read, the better they are able to recognize the variety of American experiences beyond their own. Such careful reading also prepares students to craft their own sentences and essays. Our grammar study emphasizes writing with clarity and precision. In reading and discussing literary texts, writing essays, and occasionally leading a lesson, students learn to balance self-reliance and collaborative work as a community of scholars.
    Common texts: Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Martin Luther King, Jr.; Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter; Herman Melville’s “Bartleby”; Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; and selected poetry of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman.
    Other texts may include works by writers such as James Baldwin, Willa Cather, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Frederick Douglass, Ralph Ellison, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zora Neale Hurston, Harriet Jacobs, Gish Jen, Nella Larsen, Toni Morrison, Flannery O’Connor, Phillis Wheatley, and a variety of other American poets.

    4 periods/cycle
    Full year course – 4 credits 

Friends Seminary actively promotes diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism in all its programs and operations, including admissions, financial aid, hiring, and all facets of the educational experience. To form a community which strives to reflect the world’s diversity, we do not discriminate on the basis of race or color, religion, nationality, ethnicity, economic background, physical ability, sex, gender identity or expression, or sexual orientation. Friends Seminary is an equal opportunity employer.

Friends Seminary — the oldest continuously operated, coeducational school in NYC — serves college-bound day students in Kindergarten-Grade 12.
222 East 16th Street
New York, NY 10003
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