Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

New Senior Class

Our English department is developing new electives for our seniors to take. These are year-long classes that each teacher develops based on their own personal interests in literature. They range from outdoor writing to science fiction to Greek myths. My class will focus on contemporary literature, predominantly novels. For the purpose of the class, I am defining contemporary as nothing older than 20 years ago and a significant number of the novels are within the last 5 years. The poetry is a bit older.

What follows below is the short write-up I put together to give to my department head. Let me know what you think.

Contemporary Literature Roundtable

Time creates perspective and history tells us that it is impossible to name a movement of art or thought while living within that movement. Accepting that as a given, we will try to take a circumspect view of the literature of the last 10-20 years. This will include poetry and fiction from several genres including graphic novels and children’s literature. Our goal is to arrive at some understanding of the interests and pressures affecting today’s writers. Not for those with short attention spans.

First Trimester

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

Book 1: The Golden Compass (Northern Lights in UK)

Book 2: The Subtle Knife

Book 3: The Amber Spyglass

Excerpts from John Milton’s Paradise Lost and William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience as needed.

A fantasy trilogy that features as its literary heart a rewriting of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Touches on themes of bildungsroman, myth, religious tolerance, sin and redemption, loyalty, and honor.

Second Trimester

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathon Safran Foer

Deals with themes of history, familial obligation, linguistics, wordplay, the Holocaust, myth, cultural differences, and the search for place. Recently made into a movie.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

A love story complicated by the uncontrollable time travel of the husband in the marriage. Tackles the gnawing sense of loss and regret we have all felt as part of our emotional responsibility while also dealing with how much do we know or want to know about our loved ones.

Little Children by Tom Perrotta

Skewers the beautiful façade of modern suburbia. Through subplots of infidelity and a pedophile returning home, Perrotta mirrors the lives of children against the lives of adults attempting to recapture that childhood invigoration.

Third Trimester

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Limited, yet unique point-of-view drives this novel of the disintegration of a family at the hands of modernity. A flailing protagonist wanders through a maze of deceit which he can’t even see.

Parasites Like Us by Adam Johnson

Satire dealing with academia, science, fear mongering, biological terrorism, consumerism, and love.

Watchmen by Alan Moore

Graphic novel (originally published as individual comic books) dealing with themes of nuclear threats, moral responsibility, and other geopolitical issues. Also provides and interesting view of narrative structure based around the metafiction it uses as ephemera.


Contemporary poetry will be interspersed throughout the second and third trimesters as needed thematically or as mental breaks from the fiction. Some poems may not be within the prescribed time scale, but it will be published in the timeframe and should be from the past 50 years or so. Poetry including Billy Collins’s Sailing Alone Around the Room, Kenneth Koch’s New Addresses, Wislawa Szymborska’s Poems New and Collected, Fernando Pessoa’s A Little Larger than the Universe, Seamus Heaney’s Opened Ground: Selected Poems, and other work from the last 10 years (all provided by me).

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Sadness, Again

Once again, our school goes through the deaths of its students. I’m not going to go into details as I did the last time, but two more of our students have died in a plane crash.

It’s a devastating thing to happen anytime, but here among the holidays, as many of us enjoy the company of families, there are at least two families very close to me going through hell. I simply cannot imagine the depth of grief suffered by those left behind. I hope I never have to experience the death of my children. It’s simply not something that should happen.

I was speaking to a student today who is a fairly religious person. As many students do, he is getting older and beginning to question all that he thought was certain just months before. We talked about how God could let something like this happen. His girlfriend offered platitudes, “God does everything for a reason.” His response was “There’s no reason a 17–year-old kid needs to die.”

I’m not terribly interested in the religious value of the debate, but I am interested in this idea of how events like this make us question our most central and core beliefs. It sometimes makes them stronger, sometimes it shatters them. It will be a signpost for everyone close to the situation, a moment in time that no one forgets.