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A member of Pingry's Entrepreneurship Club, Madeline tells about pitching her business idea at the LaunchX Mid-Atlantic Regional Event in New York City.

A new vending machine on the Basking Ridge Campus, offering healthy snacks and small meals on-the-go, gives busy students another after-school snack option.


The Pingry English Department’s goals can be summed up in Francis Bacon’s famous triad: “Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.” These three goals are intertwined, each adding to and enriching students’ experience and achievement in the other. Toward these complex and important ends, students in Forms I through IV take yearlong courses, designed to acquaint them with a broad spectrum of authors and writing experiences; in Forms V and VI, students take more sharply focused one-semester courses.

The literature that Pingry students read spans the comprehensive range of human experience, from the tragic drama of Sophocles to the lyrical idealism of the British Romantic poets, from the humanistic comic vision of Chaucer to the heroic quest of Frederick Douglass, from the romantic realism of Emily Brontë to the pessimistic naturalism of Edith Wharton. In the upper grades, books are presented as significant artifacts of the cultures, philosophies, and streams of artistic development that produced them. Where possible, connections are made between ideas and movements being studied in history and those being studied in English. Teachers utilize film, music, and art where they connect with literature.

By “conference” Bacon means the ability to communicate orally, an important skill in virtually every field and an important tool of thinking. Students are encouraged to discuss logically and articulately, stating their own views with confidence while listening to and considering those of others. Participation in large and small group discussions is considered an important component of each course and is a factor in determining grades.

Our goal in teaching writing is to develop the ability to communicate in a clear, concise, interesting, and effective manner. To this end, teachers assign compositions every three to four weeks, the lengths varying according to the grade level. Many of these papers are essays related to the literature being studied; others may be personal narrative or analysis, fiction, or poetry. By “exact,” Bacon also understood that writing is an aid to thinking; journal writing and online conversations (using such programs as Bboard and Moodle) challenge students to formulate their reactions to assigned reading before class discussions and take responsibility for setting class agendas.

All courses offered by the English Department provide a rigorous, challenging structure within which students learn to appreciate literature, draw informed inferences, and express themselves in a mature, lucid writing style. Historically, a majority of students who have completed our program and taken the A.P English Language and Literature exams have posted superior scores.

Implicit in the English program is the goal of helping students develop a sense of ethical and social responsibility. From Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird to Shakespeare’s Macbeth to Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” and Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians, Pingry literature study includes probing discussions of questions about the human condition and the human being as a part of society.

Vocabulary development is stressed throughout the program.

Note: Books and authors listed in course descriptions are as specific as possible. Actual works taught may vary somewhat from year to year.

English 9 and 10

English 9 (#15304)

Major year course. 3 credits. Form III.

A major objective of the English 9 “Coming of Age” program is to increase student knowledge of the way language works and how authors strategize to produce a variety of literary genres; students read, discuss, and write analyses of short stories, novels, dramas, and poetry. Other key aims are to help students improve their essay writing skills, elevate their vocabulary, and shore up grammar mechanics. Students read seminal texts of Western Literature: Sophocles’ Oedipus the King and William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice. More modern works incorporate diverse cultural perspectives: Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Fugard’s “MASTER HAROLD” . . .and the boys, Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, and Salinger’s teenage classic The Catcher in the Rye.

English 10 (#15404)

Major year course. 3 credits. Form IV.

In English 10, students move to a new level of sophistication, reading literature that represents diverse voices and time periods. A theme-driven course, “Power, Privilege, and Responsibility,” English 10 asks students to explore texts-in-conversation and to make connections between texts and the socio-political and cultural contexts out of which they arise. Students use literature as a lens to discuss power dynamics that have existed and still exist in society. Texts for the course include: James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre paired with Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, and William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth paired with Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger. In addition to prose, students will also explore a full-length poetry collection of their teacher’s choice. Students also become more adept at critical interpretation; as they are exposed to various critical theories and major literary movements, they are urged to recognize that literary works are open to multiple interpretations and that, with the proper skills and knowledge, they can infer themes themselves. Writing assignments and class projects are designed to foster critical thinking, intellectual self-awareness and self-reliance, creative experimentation, research skills, and a more mature, precise style of expression. Oral participation is emphasized to promote active learning. Vocabulary is assigned each cycle.

Fall and Spring Semester Courses: All juniors and seniors take two one-semester courses per year. The fall offerings are survey courses designed to acquaint students with the sweep of literary history. Juniors take American Literature in the fall semester; seniors may choose either World Literature or European and British Literature. Spring offerings are elective courses that encourage students to explore more specialized interests. All spring electives are open to all juniors and seniors; there are no prerequisites.

Additional English Courses: Juniors and seniors with a keen interest in English may, with permission of the Department Head, take additional English courses from the junior/senior selections. Full credit will be given, but the course will not count towards fulfillment of English course requirements or toward the requirement that seniors take four major courses. Non-credit auditing of extra courses is also possible by arrangement with the instructor and the Department Head.

Fall Semester English Courses

American Literature (#15701)

Major semester course. 1.5 credits. Form V.

American Literature is a chronological survey course featuring authors who made significant contributions to the mosaic of American letters from the early-nineteenth through the early-twentieth century. Students begin with Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, examining the conflict between American ideals and racial injustice. The course then shifts to the writings of Emerson and Thoreau, exploring the Transcendentalist reconciliation of individual and collective identities, a theme also central to the mid-century works of authors such as Hawthorne, Melville, Douglass, and Twain, and poets such as Whitman, Dickinson, and Poe. With the century’s end, the focus shifts to the Naturalism of Gilman, Crane, and Chopin, a sometimes brutally pessimistic reaction to 19th-century optimism. Turning to the Modernism of the ’20s and ’30s, the course highlights a period of ascendancy for American literature with Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and the voices of the Harlem Renaissance. The course considers major critical modes, and students are encouraged to make connections between historical/biographical elements in the course and their work in junior-year American history.

European & British Literature (#15711)

Major semester course. 1.5 credits. Form VI.

This chronological survey course examines central literary works of England and the Continent written between the mid-18th century and the present. The course explores how individual writers were affected by literary movements, scientific developments, social mores, and historical events during the last 250 years. Beyond a strong focus on literary movements such as Romanticism, Realism, Modernism, and Existentialism, students are encouraged — in class discussions, essays, and journals — to examine all course selections through a variety of critical approaches. After a brief review of British romantic poetry, we follow the rise of the realistic novel as it reveals the lives of ordinary individuals, the tensions between social classes, and the pressures of middle-class life in a period of growing industrialization. In the last half of the course, we turn to the ways 20th-century writers confronted the crises of their century. Authors may include Wordsworth, Blake, Austen, Brontë, Dickens, Hardy, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Woolf, Shaw, Forster, Barker, Sillitoe, and Garcia Lorca.

World Literature (#15721)

Major semester course. 1.5 credits. Form VI.

The World Literature course explores the complexity and cultural variety of our world as reflected in literature from several continents. As a mirror of culture, literature shows us how universal human qualities emerge within cultural boundaries. As a record of events, literature enables us to better understand history (which largely consists of collisions between different cultures) as we become more of a global village. Students will be asked in essay topics and seminar-style discussions to explore their own connections to parts of the world previously hidden to them. What are our commonalities? What makes each culture — and each individual within it — unique? Will we be able to bridge cultural gaps in the future? If so, perhaps literature can offer us entrée to peaceful interaction in the 21st century. Authors under study include J.M. Coetzee, Arundhati Roy, Azar Nafisi, Kazuo Ishiguro, Isabel Allende, Su Tong, and Yasmina Khadra.

Spring Semester English Courses

American Perspectives (#15232)

Major semester course. 1.5 credits. Forms V-VI.

An extension of American Literature, this course enables students to examine different facets of the ever-evolving American literary heritage. Organized thematically, the course draws from the foundation of the junior-year survey course, focusing in depth on a particular movement, period, region, or theme. Possible works include a wide spectrum of literature, ranging from the earliest works of the Transcendentalists to selections from the current best-seller lists. Potential topics are equally varied: perhaps literary responses to the industrialization of the U.S. and attendant socioeconomic changes, the reaction of U.S. writers against the European literary establishment, the emergence of the African American voice during the Harlem Renaissance, or the evolution of Native American voices.

Creative Writing (#15012)

Major semester course. 1.5 credits. Forms V-VI.

This is a workshop course for students who want to get in touch with their writer’s voice, who feel moved to express themselves through poems, stories, sketches, and other traditional forms of writing. The only prerequisite is the understanding that the romantic image of oneself as a writer is not enough; one must actually write. The assignments will be fun, exciting, expanding, sometimes scary, but they will be work. Every student will be expected to complete a writing exercise in preparation for every class meeting. Assignments will be supplemented with readings from the texts Telling Stories and Literary Nonfiction along with assorted poems, short stories, and handouts. Toward the end of the course, the short exercises will lead to the construction of a longer, more complex work. Students will be encouraged to submit their best pieces for publication.

Civil War Studies (#15246)

Major semester course. 1.5 credits. Forms V-VI.

Civil War Studies uses novels, poems, journals, speeches, and film to explore the causes and aftermaths of the war and its individual battles. A wide range of perspectives draws together modern writers such as E. L. Doctorow and Civil War veterans such as John W. De Forest. We will explore, from both Northern and Southern points of view, why the war was fought and why soldiers continued to fight, as well as how civilians responded to the war and how the war affected them. Finally, we will explore the battles themselves. Novels and poetry are selected to correspond to particular battles and are read in order of the battles. When we read Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, for example, we will examine battle maps of Chancellorsville and try to locate characters and events. Primary texts may include Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, Doctorow’s The March, Nat Turner’s Confessions, Nancy Rawles’ My Jim, and William Faulkner’s The Unvanquished. Background texts will include De Forest’s Miss Ravenal’s Conversion, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, and Michael Shaara’s Killer Angels. Poets include Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Sidney Lanier, and Henry Timrod.

The Ethical Dilemma (#15152)

Major semester course. 1.5 credits. Forms V-VI.

This course looks at the ways in which writers have tried to make sense of a world that they find hostile and alien by portraying ethical people searching for guidelines in an unethical world. Because of the eclectic variety of poetry, novels, and plays, students will be exposed to a wide variety of styles and will have an opportunity to test a number of different critical approaches. Each work will be placed in its historical context with an analysis of the intellectual and artistic world in which it was written; there will be a particular attempt to show that literature is not created in a vacuum, that it is derived from the conditions of the world in which the author lived. Authors may include García Márquez, Ibsen, Shakespeare, Graham Greene, Oscar Wilde, and Maxine Hong Kingston.

The Greek Epic: The Trojan War & Its Aftermath (#15247)

(1.5 credits, spring semester, Forms V & VI)

Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey have been at the heart of western literature for about 2,800 years, and these stories of war, betrayal, jealousy, and hubris continue to engage and enthrall modern readers. The myths about the Trojan War, the Greek and Trojan warriors, the women and children whose lives were ended or shattered, and the gods with whom they interacted pervade western culture through art, literature, film, and archaeology and provide a critical foundation for understanding the many cultural references to these works.

Did Homer write both of these works? What was the war really about? Is there any archaeology to support the narrative or at least to tell us something about Mycenaean culture? Who was the real hero of the Iliad, Achilles or someone else? Who were Andromache, Thersites, Dido, Eumaeus? Why did some gods fight on one side and some on the other? What happened to the survivors on either side?

Literature & Madness (#15242)

Major semester course. 1.5 credits. Forms V-VI.

Our increasingly complex and chaotic modern world has inspired many writers to investigate the ways we live, often on the edge of sanity. This course will examine the ways in which fiction writers, poets, and dramatists have sought to explore connections between madness, insight, and art. We will seek to define the terms “madness” and “insanity,” drawing from popular culture as much as psychology and sociology, and then read the literature as it confirms or shatters those definitions. While some writers romanticize insanity, envisioning the mad as intuitive and profound, others use it as a metaphor for the individual’s struggle to survive society’s confining social codes and mixed moral messages. Still others attempt to objectively document the realities of mental illness. Reading selections may include works by Conrad, Gilman, Didion, Plath, Kesey, Sexton, Haddon, and Shaffer. Course projects will encourage students to think beyond the required reading and analyze the depiction of madness in contemporary books and films.

Literature of Philosophy (#15035)

Major semester course. 1.5 credits. Forms V-VI.

What does it really mean to exist? What does it mean to know something? How far can we trust our senses? What is the right way to treat each other, other animals, the environment? As people have used reason and logic (rather than their senses or emotions) to deal with these problems, they have created systematic answers and perspectives about the nature of the world. We call these philosophies. This course is designed to investigate some of the world’s philosophies which have influenced the thinking of 20th-century Western cultures by reading primary source material, literary works which embody particular philosophies, and secondary commentary. The course begins with a brief look at the history of philosophy and an overview of philosophical method. Philosophers whose work may be sampled include Plato, Kongzi (Confucius), Laozi (Lao Tzu), Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Descartes, Locke, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Russell, and Singer. Philosophical novelists may include Gaarder, Pirsig, Hesse, Camus, Sartre, Dostoyevsky, Vonnegut, and Turgenev.

Magical Realism (#15122)

Major semester course. 1.5 credits. Forms V-VI.

This cross-cultural course is devoted to the literature whose basis is a world where archetypal magic is very much a facet of everyday life. The various literary and visual works from around the world will explore how the traditional issues of people confronting themselves, their societies, their environment, nature, and the metaphysical are influenced by a sense of wonder and magic. Besides the magical content of the course, the form of the works will also be examined within the context of the cultures that produced them. Artists who may be studied include Jean Rhys, Ang Lee, Isabel Allende, Franz Kafka, Toni Morrison, Gabriel García Márquez, and Laura Esquivel.