The Great Ideas of Humankind

The English curriculum prepares students to be citizens of the world and masters of themselves. The curriculum stresses reading comprehension, creative and informative writing, oral presentations, and research activities, all of which combine in the art of thinking.

Throughout high school, the teachers use traditional forms of literature—novels, poetry, drama, criticism, editorials, and essays—as original source material in order to encourage the students to understand the gifts of language and its relationship to what it means to be a human being.

The study of literature in ninth grade enables students to cover reading comprehension, vocabulary building, historical context, the use of language, and the important themes of the books, especially as these are expressed in terms of polarities. Some of the ideas encountered are: love and sacrifice, freedom, and the power of culture.

Tenth graders expands on these skills as well as on the development of the literary essay, with special attention to the use of comparison and contrast. The history of language and the evolution of poetic form are studied. Students delve into the process of how our literary culture has come to be through study of the great classics of the Western canon.

In eleventh grade, the concentration is on analytical thinking in relation particularly to the literature of the Middle Ages as exemplified by the two great pillars: Dante’s Inferno and the medieval epic Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach. These classics provide platforms from which the students can discuss life issues from the war of the sexes to questions about God and personal growth. Hamlet is given special attention, too, as the great exemplar of explorations of human existence and identity.

Senior year focuses on synthesis and working from different points of view, with prominence placed on the essay as a literary form. Russian literature, American Transcendentalism, Faust, and modern world literature provide the contexts out of which the students work as they make their way toward an increasing world consciousness.

9th Grade

Grammar and Writing Workshop

Focus on mastering English grammar and useage. Consciousness of structure of the language improves reading comprehension, and clarity in speaking and writing. Students practice writing substantive, clearly articulated paragraphs, and reading short stories and novels.

Comedy and Tragedy

A cultural overview of theater and dramatic literature in three distinct time periods: Greco-Roman, Medieval/Renaissance, and Modern. Three plays are examined: Oedipus the King by Sophocles, Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare, and A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry.

American Literature

Through literature, students build reading comprehension, vocabulary, historical context, use of language and themes. Wide selection of short stories and novels, typically including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Development of reading comprehension, vocabulary, and a sense for the aesthetic qualities of style.

10th Grade

Explorations in Early Literature

Year-long course. Exploration of Western Civilization, from roots in Ancient India, Mesopotamia, and Egypt through flourishing in Ancient Greece and the rise of the Judeo-Christian culture. A look at the origins the English language and its early literature through the Middle Ages. Read and analyze texts, examination of literary, cultural, historical, and philosophical significance. Development of literary essay, with special attention to skills of comparison and contrast. Readings include: The Ramayana, Gilgamesh;The Egyptian Book of the Dead; selections from The Tanakh (Old Testament); the Odyssey; Beowulf; Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; The Canterbury Tales.


Main Lesson block. An exploration of poetry as an art form and as a means of communication. Students look at changing styles of poetry through the ages, become familiar with the elements of poetry and work with various poetic forms: haiku, sonnet, terza rima, sestina, and villanelle. Students learn to recognize poetic language - diction, imagery, theme, voice, tone - and understand poetic meaning - metaphor, simile, personification, synecdoche, metonymy, symbol, onomatopoeia. Students read and write poems and create a poetry anthology on a chosen theme, which complements their own poetic creations.

11th Grade


Main Lesson block. Study of Shakespeare's life and a range of his writings (comedy, tragedy and sonnets) with focus on Hamlet. Students engage in a variety of writing styles and critical and dramatic interpretations.


Main Lesson block. Study of medieval epic Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach, a classic about finding ones destiny. Exploration of the themes of love, awakening, beauty, relationships, destiny, and compassion.


Main Lesson block. Exploration of Dante Alighieri's Inferno, the first part of his trilogy the Divine Comedy. Exploration of underpinning of Western thought as expressed in the Middle Ages. Oral reading emphasized.

12th Grade

Senior Essay

A writer's workshop. Discussion of the works of selected contemporary essayists. Focus on the essay as a literary form and on producing a portfolio of work, with concentration on the personal essay. Exploration of the five stages of writing: brainstorming an idea, outlining and draft, preparation, revising (sometimes with peer review), and polished final draft.

Russian Literature

Study of masters of 19th Century Russian Literature: Pushkin, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy. Consideration of biographies, writings, political and historical events that helped form Russian self-identity and expression.

Modern World Literature

Period of European Modernism that preceded and followed the First World War (1914-18). Students engage with the works of Picasso, Kafka, Eliot, Joyce, Proust, Wittgenstein, Bunuel. Creative work in modernist spirit.

American Trancendentalism

Study of philosophical and literary movement of American Transcendentalism. Examination of works by Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, and Dickinson. Close reading and class discussion serve as source material for student writing and artistic work.


Main Lesson block. Exploration of Goethe’s magnum opus, Faust in English translation. Culmination of high school academic careers and example of future undergraduate humanities coursework. Discussions of origins of text and echoes in Western culture.

Literature and Film: Elective

12th grade year-long elective. Students explore differences between a story told by an author though the written word, and the visual experience of a film as the "director's medium." Weekly readings and discussion of novel, short story, or play and through prior to film. Students learn film vocabulary, study theme, character development and genre, consider various production elements and more. Examples include: "The Lord of the Flies," "Where the Red Fern Grows," " Of Mice and Men," "The Color Purple," "The Great Gatsby," "To Kill A Mockingbird" and "The Homesman."

The drama of Faust by J.W. von Goethe continues to shine as a gem of world literature, enduring because it is gripping, witty, fun, tragic, and redemptive. It is the classic story of the seeker of knowledge who wagers his soul with the devil, struggles which Goethe unfold in a kaleidoscope of world literature, myth, religion and culture. Students read, write, and consider the essential questions of the work in a senior year course taught by David Weber.

Faculty Profile

John Hanlon is an educator, actor, director, and scholar. His translations of contemporary Russian plays have been published and produced around the globe. About his translation process he has said, "I spend a lot of time with a text – visualizing the scenes, hearing the characters speak – before I write a single word in English. The language of the new play has to be able to stand on its own in an American theater. Getting the emotional dynamics right – that’s the most crucial thing.”

Mr. Hanlon has two decades of teaching experience. He holds a B.A. in Russian Language and Literature from Swarthmore College, M.A.s in Liberal Studies (Reed College) and English & American Literature (Miami University), and an M.F.A. from the Yale School of Drama.