We tackle an ambitious selection of great works in our English courses at Abelard. Of course, we hope that students enjoy the books they are tasked with reading, but we also firmly believe that great literature informs other aspects of humanistic (and sometimes scientific) study. Further, as C.S. Lewis once observed, literature enriches human experience:
“Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.”
And so, in grade 9 our students tackle three different Shakespearean plays, the poetry of Robert Frost, classic novels like Catcher in the Rye, Huckleberry Finn, and The Great Gatsby, and more. Our grade 10 students explore the roots of the European canon, reading the Bible, Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad, the plays of Sophocles, and even Beowulf. Our grade 11 class pushes into contemporary literature, reading Hamlet against Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead; they also tackle other great works that facilitate connections to other academic disciplines, like Bartleby the Scrivener and philosophy, or East of Eden and students’ study of the Bible in grade 10. In grade 12, in addition to classical texts, students explore modernist and postmodernist greats like Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, and Ulysses by James Joyce. To this list, of course, we must add all the literature that students read in their second- and third-language courses, such as Hugo’s Les Misérables and Camus’ L’étranger.
One of the long-term benefits of this diverse and carefully curated reading list is that our students, upon arriving in at university, report back to us that they are immensely well prepared for the kind of critical discourse that is expected of them at a post-secondary level. After all, it is much easier to pick out a classical or biblical allusion if you’ve already read the source texts where so many great authors are inspired. We also find that our reading list affords our students the kind of broad cultural literacy that makes for better citizenship both while students at Abelard and once graduated and in the ‘real’ world.
As we look forward to the new school year, we are so excited to share all this great reading with our students!