The goal of the English faculty is to help students become thoughtful, observant readers, clear analytical writers, and confident, skillful speakers. Cross-disciplinary work connecting history, art, music, and literature is common. Not only do English curricula often parallel historical eras being studied at the same grade level, but the fine arts are formally incorporated through the arts-in-humanities program.
Freshmen explore some of the first great texts of the Western tradition – Homer, Sophocles, the Bible – and the way the themes of those texts reverberate through the later canon. While studying The Odyssey, students work with the Art Department as they illustrate scenes from the poem in the ancient Greek style. In the winter and spring, they move on to Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Because the freshman class welcomes several new members as ninth graders, their English teachers are especially attentive to the skills of writing and editing.
Students continue to develop as writers and readers sophomore year. Their Macbeth paper is the culmination of weeks of analysis, outlining, drafting, and revision. They study Pride and Prejudice with the same attention to language, nuance, and intention. Through an analysis of classic and contemporary short stories, sophomores become acquainted with the particular requirements of that genre. Exploring both first-person and third-person narration, they write two or three stories of their own, which they share with their classmates throughout the year.
The juniors’ course focuses on both the development and the particular characteristics of American literature. Students read Twain, Dickinson, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner and other important American writers and poets. Because they also study American history intensely during their junior year, the link between history and literature helps students to understand underlying forces in American culture. Another cross-disciplinary connection is an arts-in-humanities project linking the work of American painters and American writers. Past pairings have included Georgia O’Keeffe and the Imagist poets, Ernest Hemingway and Edward Hopper, and Edgar Allan Poe and Albert Pinkham Ryder. Toward the end of the year, juniors also study American theater, primarily through the work of Tennessee Williams.
This study of theater prepares seniors for a year-long study of voice—voice of the narrator, voice of the playwright, voice of actors and directors—through Hamlet, plays by Stoppard and Albee, and the complex, first-person narrative of the novel All the King’s Men. As their final preparation for college-level reading and writing, seniors become intensely aware of language, seeking to use it precisely and to be attentive to its use by others. They come to regard writing as a familiar, habitual activity, not only through analytical writing but also through personal reflections, short stories, poems and letters.
During senior year each student writes a peer reference for a classmate’s college application. These insightful, honest descriptions, often funny and tender, become part of the class’s graduation ceremony. The seniors’ ultimate essay is an explication of their own senior self-portraits, an update of the pencil self-portraits they created five years earlier. Guests at graduation pass through a portrait gallery of the graduates both as seniors and as eighth graders.
Six years of diligent attention to the skills of close reading and the powers of accurate, persuasive writing provide Falmouth Academy graduates with abilities that set them apart from their college classmates. Indeed, many report that they find themselves to be the writing experts of their college dormitories.