High School English: Writing & Literature
The Writer’s Path to Critical Thinking
Teacher: Holly Van Houten
Ages: High School Students
A-G Course Requirements are available for those who wish to receive that credit.
Note: This is a 2 hour class ending at 3:15
NO MATERIAL FEES!
Winter & Spring: 10 weeks: $380 or $370 if taking 2 or more classes. Students will receive their own copies of each of the books read in this class to keep.
Homework: Reading: 3-4 hours/Writing: 2-3 hours (approx.)
This class will cover a variety of World literature, including novels, plays, poems, short stories, essays, and speeches. Students will have a chance to explore wonderful works of literature with their peers. They will have an opportunity to exchange ideas and exercise their critical thinking skills, while enjoying imaginative literature that will stay with them forever!
This year-long course will be divided into three 10-week quarters and each quarter, as we explore the historical context of various geographical regions, we will focus on themes and literary forms that will allow students to grasp the relationship between local concerns and universal questions.
In the Fall Quarter, our theme will be “TRANSFORMATIONS” – We will begin in ancient Rome, looking at the mythological transformations of “Echo and Narcissus” and “Apollo & Daphne,” stories from Ovid’s epic poem, Metamorphosis, before jumping almost two millennia to examine the existentialism of Bohemian novelist, Franz Kafka. We will read his “The Metamorphosis,” which tells the sad tale of a man who transforms into a “monstrous verminous bug.” We’ll continue with our look at monstrous physical transformations as we wander with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein through the Scottish Orkney Islands to the far reaches of the Arctic, and all through Europe, including Bavaria, Switzerland, and the French Alps before moving on to explore the emotional transformation of the main character in A Doll’s House, a classic from the Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen. Moving to Africa, we will read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and witness the cultural transformation of a Nigerian tribe under the influence of British colonialism. We will then return to the ancient world of Greece to wrap up the Fall Quarter, reading the “Apologia of Socrates,” by Plato. Throughout the Fall Quarter, students will also explore the metaphysical poetry of John Donne, analyzing his many poems of transformation through weekly poem analysis projects. By the end of the quarter, students will certainly grasp the transformative power of literature and will have developed insight into the dramatic outward and inward transformations that make up everyday life all over the world.
In the Winter Quarter, our theme will be “Solitude & Alienation.” We will begin with Anton Chekov’s “The Bet,” which asks the question: Which is more humane – the death penalty or a solitary life, isolated in prison? Leo Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” will deepen our discussion of Alienation by exploring the loneliness and isolation one can feel even when surrounded by others. Then we’re off to South America to enjoy the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude. We will consider many different forms of privation as we visit the isolated town of Macondo and the read about the lives of the Buendía family. We will then spend two weeks standing next to a tree with Estragon and Vladimir, Waiting for Godot and considering the emptiness and randomness of a plotless play life. We’ll work to counter the lonely and listless nature of this play by working in small groups to create oral presentations on various themes in Samuel Beckett’s postmodern drama. Our final novel for the Winter Quarter will be Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Has there ever been a heroine more alone and abandoned? And what about that madwoman in the attic? We will consider the hardships Jane endures in solitude and the consolations she eventually finds. We will complete our look at Solitude & Alienation by studying Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Nobel Speech on “The Solitude of Latin America.” Throughout the Winter Quarter, we will explore three of the great poems of T.S. Eliot: “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” “The Waste Land,” and “Ash Wednesday.” By the end of the quarter, students will understand literature as a powerful way to explore meaningful questions on one’s own and as a community of readers.
In the Spring Quarter, our theme will be “THE CONSOLATION OF PHILOSOPHY.” Our reading for this quarter will explore how different cultures approach or attempt to explain human existence. We will begin with Leo Tolstoy’s “The Three Questions,” which asks readers to consider what we should do, when we should do it, and who we should do it with. We will follow this with two more short stories. The first, by Ursula Le Guin, asks readers to weigh the hidden costs of prosperity and peace; the second, by Jorge Luis Borges, asks readers to consider the value of wisdom in a library that contains every book possible. This story will serve as a wonderful transition to Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. Originally written in German, this is a story of one man’s search for meaning, enlightenment, and fulfillment. It is a novel that explores the entangling nature of material possessions and questions whether words have the ability to communicate the deepest truths about existence. We’ll then contrast Hesse’s work with that of Albert Camus, in his existential novel, The Stranger, which looks at the meaninglessness and futility of existence. By this point in the quarter, we will definitely be in the mood for some laughs, which we’ll enjoy as we romp through the countryside accompanied by Voltaire’s naively optimistic Candide, hoping to experience the “best of all possible worlds.” Our search for the meaning of life through all possible worlds will conclude with the guidance every wise traveler packs: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams. Don’t be fooled by the delightfully entertaining nature of this novel. It will wrap up many of the themes we will have discussed all year, including the possibility of insights into the human condition offered by philosophy, art, culture, language, politics, science, psychology, etc. Bring your towel – you’ll need it! Throughout the Spring, students will also explore philosophical ideas through the beautiful and often challenging poetry of Emily Dickinson. Dickinson too acknowledges language’s interpretive limitations and creates new poetic forms to investigate the intellectual and moral issues that intrigue her the most.
The Writing Process will also be a central focus in this course, as students apply their creative and analytical thinking to these marvelous works of literature. Students will not only have an opportunity to express their ideas, argue their opinions and demonstrate their understanding in our class discussions, but they will also organize, develop and argue those ideas in their writing. In addition to longer, academic essays, students will participate in weekly online discussion forums and will be asked to keep dialectical writing journals and develop their own critical discussion questions to help them organize their responses to the literature we read. Students will learn research techniques and MLA documentation as they develop their persuasive, analytic, expository and descriptive writing skills. As students practice their writing skills, they will also build their understanding of vocabulary, grammar, syntax, punctuation and the conventions of formal, academic writing.
In this class, we will be implementing technology to help us work on the Writing Process. We will take advantage of the collaborative power of Google Docs and Google Classroom. This will make it possible for us to share ideas and revision techniques far more efficiently.