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English classes at MPH combine seminar discussions, group collaborations, independent in-class writing, quiet reflection, and other sorts of experiences that allow students to explore literature creatively and analytically. English Department courses nurture students as both creative and analytical writers. We believe that the ability to write a good story is as necessary a skill as analyzing a good story. It is a core belief of the MPH English Department that the effort to achieve precision of expression, creatively and analytically, leads to complexity of thought, which, in turn, leads to empathy and engagement. Learning to express a thought effectively and efficiently empowers one to navigate society with confidence.

Through survey courses, electives and Advanced Placement offerings, Upper School students explore a culturally diverse range of fiction, nonfiction, drama, and poetry, as well as journalism, art, film, and music. To give a sense of the scope of those courses, recent students may have read and discussed works by authors as diverse as Edwidge Danticat, Franz Kafka, Aristophanes, and Emily Brontë. They may have examined gender dynamics in nineteenth century literature, crafted original scripts in a playwriting course, or discussed the cinematography in “Psycho” and “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.” Our students assume increasing responsibility for their learning as they design projects, work collaboratively, evaluate their work, and reflect on the connections between classroom experiences and their own lives.

The English Department provides additional learning opportunities through student publications like our award winning news magazine, the Pebble, and our literary magazine, The Windmill. Interdisciplinary programming, summer reading projects, and trips to theatrical performances and lectures by authors of national and international stature expand upon our students’ engagement with the literary world. Student writers also collaborate with their peers in the fine and performing arts to stage exhibitions and performances. English Department faculty themselves have published their own work in various genres, and serve as passionate advocates for the life of the mind as both a solitary and public activity.


World Literature 9

World Literature 9 builds a foundation of content and skills essential to all US English courses. In this course, students practice and refine analytical and narrative writing skills such as generating thesis statements, integrating and analyzing quotes to support an argument, organizing paragraphs, and establishing coherence and unity throughout an essay. A wide range of ancient and modern sources serve as the content and context for developing these skills. Students read texts from the two pillars of Western literature, the Biblical tradition and the Ancient Greek tradition, including stories from the Hebrew Bible and Christian scriptures, Sophocles’ Antigone and Oedipus Rex, and Homer’s Odyssey. Throughout the year, more modern readings in poetry, nonfiction, and fiction balance the older texts. This combination of readings induces students to appreciate and examine long-held ideas about character and culture, and to explore how the individual can find meaning within a larger world.

World Literature 10

In tenth grade, students encounter voices from around the world, as well as ones often overlooked here at home, in modern short fiction, novels, plays, poetry, and essays. Some of the book length readings are The Metamorphosis, Flight, Othello, Like Water for Chocolate, Beowulf, and The Woman Warrior.  With each text, students consider the historical and cultural contexts (both the writers’ and their own) that contribute to the layers of meaning available in the literature. Students practice writing in many modes – analytical, creative, descriptive, satirical, and more – often using the texts they have read as models for their own work. While exploring and experimenting with new perspectives and writing styles in World Literature 10, students think deeply and critically about these new experiences as well as their own assumptions and habits of thought.

American Literature 11

The English 11 curriculum, traditionally focused on literature of the United States, celebrates the strengths of our writers and recognizes the unique ideas and important styles arising from our cultural seedbed. Students will read slices of every literary and cultural era from the Puritans’ to our own. We’ll take the measure of those authors who’ve told the greatest stories (from Poe’s tales of horror to Twain’s transformation of the vernacular to Vonnegut’s fiction of the fantastic), the poets who reached for new forms of expression (including Dickinson in her ruminations on life and death and Plath and her dissection of the mental state of motherhood), and the essayists from Thoreau to Coates who have wondered at the cracks in this country’s soul. This year, while learning the themes and obsessions that drive our citizen-writers, students will not only write about those authors but will themselves explore those themes in their own writings, discussions, and presentations.

AP Literature and Composition

This course, intended for 11th graders, gives students a chance to reflect on the decisions made by authors, cultures, and audiences as they all work to create literature. Students will read novels, short fiction, poetry, and drama from both American and international authors and seek to gain experience thinking as both critics and creators of literature. Special attention will be paid to both the formal elements of literature and the ways in which culture shapes and is shaped by its storytellers and poets. Students will also prepare for the AP Literature and Composition exam, which will be administered in May.

 English 12

In English 12, students will read fiction, longform nonfiction, journalism, and academic writing to examine how personal and cultural beliefs are formed. This discussion-based class will also include a series of writing assignments that aim to acquaint students with the expectations of a college classroom. As the year progresses, students will bring the expertise and enthusiasm they have learned throughout their time at MPH to bear on their Senior Thesis Project.

AP Language and Composition

This course aims to give 12th graders a taste of the atmosphere and rigors of a college seminar class. Our focus throughout the year is on rhetoric: What conscious or unconscious decisions do authors, advertisers, political administrations, and anonymous citizens make about how they express themselves? How do those decisions limit or liberate the power of communities to change their behavior? Students will read a variety of nonfiction texts, both contemporary and historical, that touch on topics of national and global relevance. Students will also prepare for the AP Language and Composition exam, which will be administered in May.


Elective Courses

 First Semester

 Publications Workshop

With this course’s focus on writing and design, students are responsible for the production of our three major student publications: The Pebble Magazine,, and the MPH Yearbook. Subject matter for these publications is driven by student interest and includes a variety of genres, such as news stories, profile pieces, creative writing and opinion pieces. In addition to producing the written content, students gain skills in the areas of interviewing, photography, layout, design, and promotion.

 The Family Myth: Skeletons in the Closet

This course draws on the theories of psychology and sociology to explore the concept of family through literature and film. In psychology, the family systems theory views the family as an emotional unit and uses the idea of a system to analyze the complex interactions of a family, which lead to intense and emotional connections. We explore how the idea of the family has been celebrated in American culture and how it has changed through the years. Readings encompass theoretical texts with companion fictional works. In analyzing the fictional works, students will use psychological terms and concepts to examine characters’ motivations, actions, behaviors, and relationships.

Short and Shorter

The short story is an infinitely malleable, as well as relatively new, literary form. How have writers played with it since Poe penned his tales of the macabre and Chekhov observed the moral challenges of ordinary people? Short stories, according to John Edgar Wideman, are like the visible part of an iceberg, a piece of something larger that lies submerged. As such, writers experiment with how much to withhold, how short a story might be, and what rules of traditional storytelling might be twisted or thrown aside to present a sharp, crystalline, mysterious experience. This class analyzes how short (and shorter) fictions achieve their goals as well as how to discuss stories that leave so much hidden. The readings will inform their work, as students try their own hands at crafting fiction.

Second Semester

Aesthetics and Politics: The Arts in a Changing World

Students in this course will explore the intersection of two enduring questions: What is art? How can we best live together? As they navigate these questions, students will examine the intentional and unintentional political implications of the arts around the world, across history, and in a range of political systems. Tragic, Classical, Romantic, Modern, and Post-Modern works of art will receive special attention, as will debates concerning traditional approaches to art in contrast to works that challenge artistic traditions. To gain a deeper understanding of the meaning of both art and politics, students will view paintings, photographs, and films; attend at least one theatrical production; read literature and philosophy; and listen to music. Assignments will include creative and analytical options.

Encountering the Other

From the earliest stories in the Western tradition, such as the tales of Odysseus finding himself washed ashore on one strange island after another, authors have explored those moments when a character encounters something new and strange. Whether through a door in a wall or a portal to an alternate reality, the points when characters and readers alike cross the line from the familiar to the unfamiliar provide a source of endless invention for writers. What do we expect to find? How might something new, in fact, reflect what we already know? In this class, we’ll discover what these stories tell us about ourselves and our culture, how empathy moves us and fails us, and how our fears and assumptions trail us no matter where we go.

Publications Workshop

With this course’s focus on writing and design, students are responsible for the production of our three major student publications: The Pebble Magazine,, and the MPH Yearbook. Subject matter for these publications is driven by student interest and includes a variety of genres, such as news stories, profile pieces, creative writing and opinion pieces. In addition to producing the written content, students gain skills in the areas of interviewing, photography, layout, design, and promotion.