English Syllabus

I used to hate the night of the first day of school. I loved hear­ing about the first day details, new teach­ers, old and new friends…but The Forms near­ly did me in. A whole pack­et for each kid filled with mul­ti-col­ored papers, many of which asked for the very same infor­ma­tion — so many emer­gency num­bers, med­ical forms etc. All nec­es­sary things, of course, but when we have the tech­nol­o­gy we car­ry in our pock­ets and purs­es, I could nev­er under­stand why I was fill­ing out the same infor­ma­tion every year in pen.

But I digress. My feel­ings about the night of the first day of school changed once the kids hit high school. For what­ev­er rea­son, the forms were less cum­ber­some, almost nonex­is­tent; instead, I have to read and sign syl­labi. I tru­ly enjoy read­ing all the safe­ty pro­to­cols for chem­istry and the vari­a­tions on what will hap­pen if you hand in work late or vio­late the school’s “aca­d­e­m­ic hon­esty” code. But I con­fess, my favorite syl­labus to read is always Eng­lish. The Eng­lish major in me is always curi­ous to see….

Our kids are five years apart in school. Dar­ling Daugh­ter has the very same Sopho­more Hon­ors Eng­lish teacher #1 Son had five years ago. I remem­ber sign­ing the syl­labus five years ago and think­ing how dif­fer­ent the read­ing list was than the one for my Sopho­more Eng­lish class. I had an exchange teacher from Oxford, Eng­land my sopho­more year. We read Shake­speare, Eliot, Dick­ens, Chaucer, Mil­ton — and I read Jane Austen on the side. I can’t remem­ber now all of what #1 Son read, but the list was dif­fer­ent enough that I remem­ber notic­ing. The list did not star­tle in its dif­fer­ence, how­ev­er, as it did this year.

I was prac­ti­cal­ly cheer­ing there on the couch in the liv­ing room Tues­day night. I want my kids to read lots of Shake­speare, Chaucer. Mil­ton, Dick­ens, Eliot and Austen, to be sure. But we are liv­ing in a rapid­ly chang­ing world and there are some books on Dar­ling Daughter’s syl­labus that I am pos­i­tive­ly thrilled to see. This Eng­lish major’s heart did a lit­tle pit­ty-pat as I signed that syl­labus and wrote a quick note of glad­ness to the teacher, as well.

Sid­dhartha by Her­mann Hesse, and Night by Elie Wiesel — both Ger­man authors; Pur­ple Hibis­cus, a nov­el writ­ten by the Niger­ian author Chi­ma­man­da Ngozi Adichie; The Kite Run­ner by Afghan-Amer­i­can Khaled Hos­sei­ni; Nei­ther Wolf Nor Dog by Kent Ner­burn, a Min­neso­ta author rec­og­nized as one of the very few authors who can respect­ful­ly bridge the gap between Native and non-Native cul­tures; Perse­po­lis by Iran­ian-born French graph­ic nov­el­ist Mar­jane Satrapi; and The Oth­er Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by (one of the men named) Wes Moore.

What A List! And they’ll be talk­ing about sign and sym­bol, arche­types, allu­sions, and motifs! (Pit­ter-pat, pit­ter-pat…) And many oth­er things as well, I’m guessing.

Dar­ling Daugh­ter said, “I don’t know any of these books….” And I said, grand­ly ges­tur­ing at the book­case, “We have most of them and I will get the oth­ers. I’ve read many, but not all. Can’t wait!”

Maybe I was a lit­tle too excit­ed… I’ll try not to read ahead at least. I’ll glad­ly home­school the Austen and Eliot, Shake­speare and Chaucer, Mil­ton and Dick­ens. Times are chang­ing and books are an impor­tant part of how we learn about the expe­ri­ences of oth­ers. Huz­zah to our teach­ers who respond with new chal­leng­ing texts that reflect the world in which our kids are living.




Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Cathy Ballou Mealey
6 years ago

That’s excit­ing! I am going to use that list to shop for my daugh­ter’s Christ­mas books. Not sure her sopho­more Eng­lish Lit class will be so inclu­sive next year, but you nev­er know!

David LaRochelle
David LaRochelle
6 years ago

Looks like a great list! I’m afraid Sid­dhartha was the only title I’ve read, and that was back in a high school lit class. Glad that teach­ers are keep­ing their read­ing lists updat­ed (though a lit­tle Shake­speare nev­er hurts any­one either!).

Lauren Stringer
Lauren Stringer
6 years ago

What an excel­lent list. I felt the same excite­ment when my kids came home with their read­ing lists from high school. Their edu­ca­tion became mine. Great post!