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The English Department

The goal of the English Department is to develop thoughtful, confident, well-read, and articulate students who are fully prepared for the rigors of the college classroom and a life of intellectual adventure. The best education is dynamic. This is a truth lived out in our classrooms. Vibrant discussions, daily writing, one-on-one mentoring, out-of-the box thinking, passionate teaching – these are some of the hallmarks of our department.

Our curriculum introduces students to some of the greatest works of literature ever written, including Homer’s The Iliad, Aristotle’s Poetics, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, Emily Dickinson’s poetry, Frederick Douglass’s Fourth of July oration, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Each English class reads a Shakespeare play in January as part of a school-wide Shakespeare festival that includes recitations and performances, field trips to the nearby American Shakespeare Center, and guest lectures by leading scholars.

Clear Writing about Complex Ideas

We believe that all students can develop into capable academic writers. The key is to empower them with a systematic, skill-and-concept-based approach and to give them plenty of opportunities for practice. Our curriculum is based on the Little Red Schoolhouse writing system, which was developed at the Universities of Chicago and Virginia, and which is currently used in the writing programs at those prestigious universities and many others across the country. We teach writing as a process, with practical strategies for planning, drafting, and revision. We emphasize essay focus, organization, argumentation, tone, and mechanics. Students write at least one major essay every quarter, and they write in class or for homework on a daily basis. We especially emphasize timed, in-class essays, which prepare students for the SAT and AP exams.

We teach students that good writing rests on a solid foundation in grammar.  An understanding of grammar empowers students and gives them the skills necessary to write clear, grammatical prose.  Teaching of grammar is integrated into courses at each grade level.  For example, students learn to parse and diagram sentences from famous authors such as John Locke and Thomas Jefferson.  The experience of seeing how great writers from the past had to observe the rules of grammar gives students a concrete sense of why grammar is important and how grammar can be used rhetorically in writing.  

Careful Thinking about Difficult Questions

An ongoing engagement with the big questions of philosophy and literature animates our discussions of literary works. What is the good life? What is freedom? Equality? Justice? Love? Beauty? How do we find happiness? What is the purpose of art? What is our relationship to nature? What is the individual’s relationship to society? What are the qualities of a good leader?

These are perennial questions, but they are wrestled with in particular times and places, so course texts are always situated within their historical and cultural contexts. The English curriculum at MSA is organized chronologically and spatially, with surveys of ancient literature (9th grade), British literature (10th grade), American literature (11th grade), and contemporary literature (12th grade). We also offer AP English Language and Composition (11th grade) and AP English Literature and Composition (12th grade). Our curriculum is closely aligned with the History Department’s. This robust interdisciplinary approach means that students are studying the Revolutionary War in history class while analyzing the rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence in English. They are studying Ancient Greece in history while reading The Odyssey in English.

For more information on the English Department, feel free to contact Jason Nabi, department chair, or any of the other faculty members. We are always happy to host classroom visitors.