By Brian Li (IV) and Carson Shilts (V)
In the past year, the Pingry Upper School English Department has undergone major changes involving the Junior and Senior curricula. Previously, the Junior/Senior electives were a collective affair; now, Juniors and Seniors take their spring electives separately, resulting in a shift in the works used and courses that are taught by faculty. As Pingry students, it is important to understand exactly what purposes these changes serve and what you may be losing and or gaining from the new curricula. To further understand this topic, I interviewed Upper School Director Dean Chatterji, who helps oversee any and all curriculum changes.
Dean Chatterji explained that curriculum change is a “two-year process” and that these changes are “big changes that we are not undertaking right now.” The sentiment seems that course adjustment is a difficult and lengthy process that is only undergone when it is necessary. Dean Chatterji also discussed how the most recent changes have been those made to the English curriculum. This prompted me to reach out to Dr. Dickerson, Chair of the English Department, for further clarification.
Dr. Dickerson said, in the case of English, that “last year was a year of great change.” Dr. Dickerson explained how the English spring elective program was revised for Juniors and Seniors. Both classes used to take their second semester English elective together, in a mixed class; that method was discarded. When asked why, Dr. Dickerson stated, “We felt that the Juniors did not have enough options for Junior electives.”
The English department added three new electives: Gold Rush, Waterways, and American Contemporary Poetry; these courses are meant to “complement American Literature” which is the required fall semester course. Dr. Dickerson further explained that “American Literature can be kind of rushed and packed so we felt that this would give students a chance to further explore these topics.” She also discussed how it was difficult for Juniors to keep a certain level of rigor up when mixed in a class with seniors, as seniors leave early for their Independent Senior Projects. Seniors now take a full year of courses related to world literature, and new electives have been added to their course sheet as well. Rising Juniors and Seniors may have noticed that they both have five different spring electives to choose from, which is new to this year. Rising Juniors have the option to take The Contemporary American Short Story, which is a new course that will run next year. Rising Seniors have two new options to choose from Creative Writing and The Great Epic: The Trojan War & Its Aftermath, making the number of spring electives between Juniors and Seniors equal.
Dr. Dickerson explained that “it’s all a trade off; you’re always losing something and you’re always gaining something,” which is something that is always important to keep in mind. Though some books such as The Adventures of Huck Finn are no longer part of the curriculum, many great novels have been added in response. As literature and world issues progress, the curriculum will continue to change to keep it as relevant and valuable as possible.