Departmental Offerings

The following course descriptions detail the likely offerings during any school year, though specifics will vary from term to term and course lineups are always changing. Click on the course titles below for full descriptions.

  • English I

    English I serves as an introduction to essential literary genres: short story, poetry, drama, essay, and novel. Students become more critical readers and better writers as they improve their vocabulary, learn to solve grammatical and stylistic problems, and develop strong oral skills during class discussions. The literature studied first explores the theme of roots (place, the meaning of home, family, and the importance of the individual both alone and in relation to others). Later, the course focuses on innocence and experience. Writing assignments, which stem from the literature, give students the opportunity to craft formal, analytical essays, as well as to discover their own less formal styles and approaches through personal and creative essays.
  • English II

    Sophomore English combines a deep interest in genre with a pair of major themes. Students spend the first part of the year working with two complementary novels, Erich Maria Remarque’s classic All Quiet on the Western Front from 1928 and the first novel in Pat Barker’s remarkable trilogy, Regeneration from 1991. These readings are augmented by short stories by Ernest Hemingway and J.D. Salinger and by an extensive collection of poems from the so-called Trench Poets. Students then read George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 and spend time considering the motivations that underlie totalitarianism and war.

    Between Thanksgiving and Winter Break, students choose, thoroughly research, and make an oral presentation on a twentieth- or twenty-first century political propaganda poster, offering insights into its historical, social, economic, and aesthetic background.

    After break, the class uses Nadine Gordimer’s short story collection Jump to make a transition from the social and political to the personal and the individual as they begin their investigation of the conventions of comedy and romance in As You Like It, the impact of the English Romantic poets, as well as of the self-proclaimed “last of the Romantics,” W.B. Yeats, and of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. They end the year by considering the anti-Romantic stances of the poet Robert Frost and of James Joyce in his short story sequence Dubliners.

    An increasing familiarity with and mastery of the analytical essay is expected, but students also explore many other kinds of writing throughout the year. Class format is discussion oriented, and students make formal presentations three times a year.
     
  • AP English III: American Studies

    This multidisciplinary class combines English and history with the goal of helping students achieve a deeper understanding of a complex question: What is America? By breaking down the artificial barriers that exist between disciplines, students in this course not only study American literature and history, but also investigate their own relationship to the idea of America. Using traditional textbooks, fiction, non-fiction (speeches, essays, memoirs, and editorials), art, advertisements, film, music, and artifacts of popular culture, students contemplate the American past and present in innovative and creative ways. The course is team taught; while students still have distinct history and English class periods, the syllabi are coordinated and assignments often overlap. They begin with the creation of America—a people, a country, a culture, a literature. This exploration of early American writing allows them to delve into the world of rhetorical analysis. As an American literature emerges they track its role in defining American character, galvanizing protest, expanding notions of American identity, and challenging the status quo. 

  • English IV

    The curriculum offerings for senior English change from year to year. English IV Honors courses are more narrowly defined, to make room for deeper, more complex analysis. Below are examples of recent courses.

    The Empire Strikes Back: Immigrant Voices in American and English Literature
    This course explores works of literature that have emerged from colonial and post-colonial territories during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Students read works from representative English and American immigrant authors who work within the post-imperial framework, even as they assume the daunting challenge of cultural decolonization. Building on themes explored sophomore year in works like Dubliners, by James Joyce, Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe, and Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, the class considers questions such as: What effects does/did colonization have on culture? How are those effects revealed in the works studied? What role does language play in the culture of imperialism? Is it significant that these authors write in the language of the colonial power? Authors and books in consideration: Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao; Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah; Jhumpa Lahiri, Unaccustomed Earth; Chang-Rae Lee, Native Speaker; Julia Alvarez, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents; Ha Jin, Waiting; Edwige Danticat, The Farming Bones; Julie Otsuka, When the Emperor Was Divine; Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony.

    Personal Narrative Writing: Inventing the Self
    Non-fiction personal memoir is a particularly provocative feature of the contemporary literary landscape. In this class students use some examples of this genre as springboards into their own experiences and as catalysts for self-discovery. In other words, the class integrates seminar discussions of the published works with original non-fiction. Writing personal narratives, observations, and reflections, students seek to practice modes of expression that they may never have encountered before—within themselves and elsewhere. The course uses a portfolio approach, including organic collections, blog posts, and other artistic expressions. Students commit to critical sessions each week in a workshop setting and work toward final projects at the end of each term. Possible texts include the following:

    A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf
    Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, by Alexandra Fuller
    The Color of Water, by James McBride
    Where Rivers Change Direction, by Mark Spragg

    The Myth of Love
    In this course students consider relationships between men and women as expressed through the novels and stories of some great writers, male and female, of the 19th and 20th centuries. The contexts of the fiction vary, but in each work they explore the complexities of emotional and physical intimacy in its many forms. In so doing they perhaps discover universal truths about love while recognizing that men see women—and women see men—in ways that make a sustained commitment difficult. The writing required in this course will be both analytic and creative, and students will explore their thoughts in a personal journal. Probable texts include Emma, by Jane Austen; My Ántonia, by Willa Cather, Daisy Miller, by Henry James, A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway; The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald; Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston; The World According to Garp, by John Irving.

    All in the Telling: Deconstructing Narrative
    “Every story’s a mystery box,” says writer/filmmaker J.J. Abrams. Using the decoding and analysis skills students have honed in prior English classes, they explore how a story grows and goes—that is, how a fiction prose narrative is constructed. In this course, students learn a sophisticated lexicon for narrative and use it to take apart several 20th and 21st century works, focusing ear and eye on voice, point-of-view, storyworld, and structure, among other elements. There is some writing—creative and analytical, primarily in blog posts—but the class is more concerned with modeling the narrative of each novel graphically. How can a few good minds around a seminar table untangle narrative thread(s)? How can students and teacher deconstruct and then reconstruct—that is, express their understanding of—these stories in 2D or 3D? Think Literary Legos. Think Design Challenge. Think: This will be interesting! Texts: William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying (1930); Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1961); Toni Morrison, A Mercy (2008); Louise Erdrich, Love Medicine (1981); Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones (2002); Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005); J.J Abrams and Doug Dorst, S. (2013).

    Paradise Lost: Coming of Age
    In this course, students explore the essential elements and perennial complexities of what it means to “come of age” in a variety of eras and in a range of cultures. Students start by trying to define the term itself, examining different ideas of what it means to move into adulthood. The class uses a number of texts as springboards for discussion, asking questions like: What does it mean to be a woman? A man? How do we understand and reconcile tensions between the individual and the community? Is tension with established custom and authority (e.g. parents, religious beliefs, and other social codes) inevitable in the process of becoming? What rituals are associated with coming of age? Do they matter? Is coming of age necessarily an experience of a “paradise lost”? Texts include: Paradise Lost (excerpts), John Milton; Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce; excerpts from Jay-Z’s memoir Decoded; Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, Jeanette Winterson; The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison; All The Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy; On Beauty, Zadie Smith; selected poems, documentary film excerpts and articles related to media literacy and the impact of advertising on concepts of identity.

    Writers Wanted! Stories Needed! A student-led exploration of short fiction
    This student-centered writing class examines the meaning and making of short fiction. Through creative experimentation, collaboration, and critique, students strive to identify the essential truths about short stories past, present, and future. The course empowers students to create the fiction they then consider. It offers the opportunity for students to respond to short fiction in both familiar and unexpected ways. While much of the class is collaborative, writing fiction is a private act that involves introspection and dedication. This class offers students the opportunity to develop their fiction writing abilities in a structured, supportive environment. Success depends largely on student enthusiasm, motivation, and self-discipline to write and write some more. Students “workshop” stories in both small groups and full-class formal critiques, with an emphasis on experimentation and revision. Student portfolios culminate with an online anthology designed, written, and produced by the entire class.

    Shakespeare
    Why, exactly four hundred years after his death, should students spend a full term studying the works of Shakespeare, a poet who worked in rhyme and in formal meter, a dramatist who operated from conventions that strike a modern audience as stilted and unconvincing, a man whose understanding of the world and whose use of language to express that understanding can seem bewildering? The answer is that Shakespeare is simply the most important English writer who ever lived. That importance stems from the unique combination of the time in which he wrote and the particular genius he brought to his craft. Writing at a time when the language was finally settling into its modern form, when the English theater was being invented along with many of the plays that were to dominate the stage for hundreds of years, and when England itself was becoming the most significant political and economic power in Europe, Shakespeare had an unparalleled sense of freedom in his expression and an overwhelming confidence in his ability to create. Because he possessed both a poetic skill of the highest order and a dramatic sensibility that allowed him to see fully into the hearts and minds of his characters, his plays have remained key documents in the history of literature and absolutely viable dramatic vehicles in contemporary productions. Students read and study five plays, one history, one comedy, two tragedies, and one romance, paying attention to aspects of stagecraft, cultural and historical assumption, even some of the limitations of Elizabethan acting styles, but focusing primarily on the stringing together of language, the development of character, and the gradual revelation of theme. As a way of considering the variety of approaches and interpretations that actors and directors have taken over the last sixty years, students look at clips of movies and videos of stage productions. The course is conceived as a seminar, with students taking on significant responsibility for class discussion. Texts: Henry the Fourth, Part I; As You Like It; Othello; Macbeth; and The Tempest.

    What Moves at the Margin: Great Women Writers of the 20th and 21st Centuries
    Grounded in the conviction that our shared humanity is more important and more powerful than the gender we may not share, this course offers students the opportunity to turn the table on the patriarchal standards still embedded in current curricula in studying texts produced by great women writers of the 20th and 21st centuries. These authors, like their canonical male counterparts, grapple in their texts with what it means to be human. Books will likely include: Beloved, by Toni Morrison; Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal, by Jeanette Winterson; On Beauty, Zadie Smith; A Room of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf; Citizen, Claudia Rankine; When the Emperor Was Divine, by Julie Otsuka; Ceremony, by Leslie Marmon Silko. Short stories from the works of E. Annie Proulx, Alice Munro, Flannery O’Connor, Jhumpa Lahiri, Pam Houston. Poems from the works of: Aphra Behn (17th c.), Emily Dickinson (19th c.), Mary Oliver, Sharon Olds, Anne Carson, Sylvia Plath and Audre Lorde and others.

    Thacher 360: The Power of Place
    “I hate this place. I hate this place!” So begins Memoirs of an Old Boy—an account of F. Barreda Sherman’s five years at Thacher—1906-1911—beginning with being dropped off by his mother and aunt at a place “all brown and unpainted.” It doesn’t end with hating; in fact, Mr. Sherman came (soon) to love his new home: “we were happy; we loved the School; and we lived up to the highest standards of the time.” What powers worked to effect this change? Specifically, what power of place and people? The goal in this course is for students to create their own CdeP Memoir collaboratively, looking at Thacher (through eyes both like Mr. Sherman’s and unlike them) at a place that is both like his Thacher and “ours.” Students use readings, field trips, observational exercises, visits to the School Archives, and interviews, to gather material. Then, in weekly writing and workshopping, students create a book—the kind you can hold in your hand—and some sort of website/page, both of which will be a combination of reportage, descriptive writing, and personal narrative, as well as “visual writing”—photography and illustration.

    Magic in Service of Truth
    “We live in an age of invented, alternate worlds. Tolkien’s Middle-earth, Rowling’s Hogwarts, the dystopic universe of ‘The Hunger Games,’ the places where vampires and zombies prowl: These places are having their day. Yet in spite of the vogue for fantasy fiction, in the finest of literature’s fictional microcosms there is more truth than fantasy.” —Salman Rushdie
    In this class, students explore the popular literary mode of magical realism. Because it breaks down the distinctions between the usually opposing terms of the magical and the real, magical realism is a mode suited to exploring and transgressing boundaries whether political, geographic, or generic. Through selected short stories and two novels the course investigates how the melding of the improbable and the mundane, the mystic and the historic, grants access to the post-colonial experience in both India and South America. In Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits, imagination is used to enrich reality, not to escape from it.

Faculty

  • Seth Boyd

    English
    University of New Hampshire - BA, MA
    University of Nevada - PhD
    Bio
  • Joy Sawyer-Mulligan

    Chair of the English Department
    Colby College - BA
    Middlebury College - MA
    Bio
  • Matt Balano

    Director of Diversity and Inclusion; Assistant Dean of Students; English
    University of California, Santa Cruz - BA
    Bio
  • Katherine Halsey

    French; English; Horse Program
    Stanford University - BA
    Bio
  • Rod Jacobsen

    English; Marvin Shagam Program for Ethics and Global Citizenship Coordinator; Horse Program
    Trinity College - BA
    Stanford University - MA
    Bio
  • Blossom Pidduck

    Assistant Head of School; Director of Studies; English
    Amherst College - BA
    Harvard University - EdM
    Bio
  • Iona Popa

    English
    University of Notre Dame - BA
  • Peter Robinson

    Art History; English
    College of Wooster - BA
    Vanderbilt University - MA
    Bio
  • Cameron Spaulding

    English; Golden Trout Program Director
    Bio
  • Tim Sullivan

    English
    Princeton University - AB
    Middlebury College - MA
    Bio