English

T

he goal of Buxton’s English curriculum is to create engaged readers, writers and thinkers. We want students to respond honestly and intelligently to literature, to grasp the exciting and innovative ideas that great writers put forth, to learn to analyze and interpret texts, and to translate their own ideas into powerful, thoughtful writing. All Buxton students take four years of English, during which time they read, discuss, and write continuously, always in close conjunction with their teachers and peers. They actively participate in the process of understanding and making literature, approaching great books openly and thoughtfully in the spirit of curiosity and with a will to learn. We expect that the habits of engagement that students acquire in their English classes will cross over into all aspects of their lives.

The two facets of the English program—the teaching of great literature and writing skills and the building of community within the school are meant to be overlapping and complementary. Students simultaneously engage with literature and the world in which they live.

English I

This course is an introduction to the infinite possibilities and pleasures of literature. We will, first and foremost, consider a selection of contemporary novels, classic texts, and short stories individually and in relation to each other. These considerations will be of a literary, social, historical, and personal nature. Through these analyses, students will have the opportunity to improve their writing, reading, and speaking skills, learning to critically interpret and articulate their own ideas effectively in careful inquiry and personal response to the topics at hand. Further, the class is a unique chance for the entire grade to learn about and from each other over the course of the year, getting to know one another personally and intellectually in their first year at the school.

English II

This English II section, entitled “Speaking Truth to Power,” will explore the meanings of the words “truth” and “power.” Who decides what is true? If all information contains bias, then how do we decipher truth? How does power affect our access to truth? Authors and writers have the power to create and present truthful narratives that illuminate the many ways of seeing and interacting with our world. Through critical reading and writing, exploratory projects, and group discussion, students will sharpen their skills as truth-tellers. We will explore the works of authors including James Baldwin, Elie Wiesel, Nayyirah Waheed, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Arundhati Roy, Alison Bechdel, Octavia Butler, and more.

English III

The class will read Tolstoy’s War and Peace over the course of the fall term. Daily discussions will consider the rich emotional and moral world that Tolstoy uniquely creates. In the first half of the term, there will be weekly in-class writing assignments. Later in the fall, students will write an original short story that will include some Tolstoian themes and techniques. A major expository essay on the novel will be due before the December vacation. Reading for the rest of the year will be determined later in the fall. In past years, the class has read non-fiction as well as fiction in the winter, including works by Sigmund Freud, Primo Levi, and D.H. Lawrence. The spring has often focused on drama and poetry.

English IV

Seniors will choose one of two electives offered each semester, each taught by a different teacher. These courses will continue to develop, on a more advanced level, many of the theoretical and aesthetic ideas explored in the previous three years. Student writing, class reading, and discussion are at the center of the courses.

THE ART OF LOSING 
The Art of Losing

It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

–Elizabeth Bishop, “One Art”

How do writers—even masters of the craft—wrestle language into a form that can describe significant personal loss? What tools are at the disposal of a writer who is grieving? This class will examine various texts—personal essays, poems, memoir and autobiography—to explore this question. We’ll read writers who look at death by juxtaposing it against something else: Cheryl Strayed, who pairs the death of her mother with the beginning of her heroin addiction, and James Baldwin, who examines his father’s death alongside the Harlem race riots. We’ll a read a book that approaches death by breaking all the rules, even blurring the lines between fact and fiction: Dave Eggers’ memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, in which Eggers chronicles his experiences raising his 8-year-old brother after the sudden deaths of both his parents. Finally, we’ll see where a writer’s tools seem to fail, where death can only be discussed through fragmentation and the breakdown of form: Joan Didion’s Blue Nights, about the death of the author’s daughter. Throughout the semester, students will work on creative pieces that experiment with juxtaposition, rule-breaking, fragmentation, and other tools that can stretch our own abilities with the written word.

 

ON THE MARGINS: REBELS, OUTLIERS, AND OUTCASTS 

 

In this senior English seminar we will be looking at books about those who live at the margins of society. Starting with short stories and moving on to novels and plays, we will read works that examine, expose, even celebrate those on the edges: immigrants, dreamers, fanatics, prophets, the oppressed. The primary texts for the course will be The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka (the bizarre tale of a man who becomes a cockroach), Wise Blood, by Flannery O’Connor (a Southern Gothic text so strange it boggles the mind), The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz (a wild, exuberant, and sad novel about a self-described “ghetto nerd” from the Dominican Republic), and the play Angels in America, by Tony Kushner (an epic and elegiac “gay fantasia in five acts”). We will be focusing not just on content but also on technique: how do these writers write their stories? How do their choices affect meaning? etc. Students will also be doing a lot of their own writing, both in and out of class. We will have frequent in-class creative and expository exercises as well as longer out-of-class papers that are both creative and analytical.

 

Writing: Daily Themes

Daily Themes is a creative writing class for juniors and seniors. Everyone will write super-short stories almost daily (four per week). There will be a general theme for each week, and creative prompts for each day. In response to the prompts, each student will write a short short story, or a micro-narrative, or a piece of flash fiction (all names for the same great style of writing). The motto of the class is: 250 words a day, good or not. The class has more than one instructor so that we can split up twice a week for small-group editing and individual attention. There will be no out-of-class reading and no other homework for this class. It is a writing-intensive course, designed to help all levels of upperclassman practice and improve their writing.

English as a Second Language (ESL)

Buxton offers three levels of ESL classes aimed at improving students’ speaking, listening, reading and writing skills with instruction in grammar and vocabulary. Advanced ESL is a TOEFL prep course in the fall and an advanced ESL conversational class in the later terms. ESL students also take the corresponding English class based on grade level.

Beginning ESL aims to improve the students’ speaking, listening, writing, and reading skills through contextualized materials that incorporate grammar and vocabulary. Based on students’ interests and needs, possible topics include holidays, culture, food, media, movies, music, politics, various sciences, and so on. Regular assignments include oral presentations, keeping journals, and summarizing and responding to news articles.

Intermediate ESL continues to address the four skills (speaking, listening, writing, and reading) and integrates grammar and vocabulary with emphasis on reading and writing. Students are exposed to different types of texts, such as poetry, short stories, news/magazines articles, diaries, blog posts, and so on. Regular assignments include short essays, oral presentations, keeping journals, and summarizing and responding to news articles.

Advanced ESL, for seniors, is a TOEFL Prep course in the Fall, and becomes an advanced ESL conversational class in Winter and Spring.

ESL students also take the corresponding English class (I, II, III) based on grade level.

 

The Practice of Poetry

Poetry is the art form that most asks us to stop and be still. To read a poem is to slow down and focus your intellect, senses, and emotions onto a small group of words and to let their meaning work on and through you. To write a poem is to think about language, sensation, and feeling in a distilled and deliberate manner and to translate experience into precise and economical language.

Throughout the term, as both readers and writers, students will practice the demanding skills of poetry. The study of poetry will be approached through a series of poetic forms as a way of exploring what poetry is, what makes it different than prose (or any other art form, for that matter), and what different formal structures do to language and experience. Because free verse has become the default setting for most poetry writing, of particular interest will be the more structured poetic forms and the effect they have on reading and writing of poetry. What can you say with a sonnet? How does rhyme affect meaning? What makes a villanelle powerful? Members of the class will look at and experience the constant tension between powerful emotion and disciplined expression that defines poetry through reading new and old poems, and writing and sharing their own.

Testimonials

  • “Learning doesn’t stop when you leave the classroom, it’s continuing through every moment of the day and your life, constantly shaping and reshaping you.”
    Hollis Lane
    Hollis Lane San Francisco, CA
  • “At Buxton you get to focus on what you want to be learning; whether it is social skills or in-depth studying- you learn to take responsibility of your education.”
    Francis Magai
    Francis Magai Troy, NY
  • “Living your education means to not only learn things, but to use what you learn in your everyday life.”
    Naima Nigh
    Naima Nigh Mexico
  • “To me, living your education means to be independent, to take charge, to not be afraid of asking for help, to learn from your peers, to love to learn, to take what you have learned from a loving environment and take it into the world.”
    Kat Hallowell
    Kat Hallowell New Hampshire
  • “Your education is more than just your time in class, it’s your life as a whole. Learning is not limited to a teacher teaching you something in a classroom.”
    Cynder Johnson
    Cynder Johnson Missouri
  • “To me, at Buxton, it’s not boundaries that you make, but the ones you break through.”
    Roy Malone
    Roy Malone New York, NY
  • “At Buxton, I can choose what I want to do with my education. I can design my own path and invest my time studying topics that I’m really interested in.”
    Nora Mittleman
    Nora Mittleman New York, NY
  • “At Buxton you can experience your intellectual development in a community that accepts your perspective of the world.”
    Ben Nigh
    Ben Nigh Mexico
  • “I felt instantly at home when I stepped on the campus. At Buxton, we are in school 24/7. We learn things in the classroom, but we really learn valuable things outside of the classroom. We learn how to work with others and respect each other’s spaces. Our education surrounds us and we learn new things everyday.”
    Emily Woodside
    Emily Woodside Albany, NY
  • “I chose Buxton over public school because I think I function better in a smaller environment. You’re able to get to know students and faculty on a deeper level, which is rare.”
    Charlie Starenko
    Charlie Starenko Williamstown, MA
  • “Students should be happy when they are learning. They should not feel like studying is a burden to them. You learn things from your living space and environment - you are learning every second you are living.”
    Jiayi Cao
    Jiayi Cao China
  • “Living your education means you become an active learner. You are not just learning in the classroom or while you are doing your homework. You live your life learning and taking in the world’s various educations.”
    Lena Meginsky
    Lena Meginsky Northhampton, MA
  • “Buxton has shown me that it is possible to forge close bonds with teachers as well as students. It also gives you the ability to try new things in an environment where there is no judgment.”
    Kristhal Ayala
    Kristhal Ayala Puerto Rico
  • “I chose Buxton for a small community-based education with focus on the individual as part of the world at large, along with the learning settings.”
    Katie McAvoy
    Katie McAvoy Boston, MA
  • “I love the atmosphere and how tightly knit the community is. At Buxton you take what you learn in the classroom and use it in everyday life - you learn from the world around you and see how you can make it better.”
    Cheyanne Williams
    Cheyanne Williams Boston, MA
  • “At Buxton you bring your education into everything you do, and learn important, relevant things that you can utilize all the time.”
    Rebecca van der Meulen
    Rebecca van der Meulen New Lebanon, NY
  • “At Buxton, wherever I go, whatever I do, I’m learning. Formal classes are just an extension of the learning that happens everywhere else in my life.”
    Kullan Warner
    Kullan Warner Wilton, CT
  • “Being academic feels important. It really helps forge relationships between students and faculty, which is such an important thing here. It is so important that the faculty live in the dorms and everyone has a faculty advisor. You get to know your teachers outside of school life and having those relationships really strengthens the joy I have in learning.”
    Rose Shuker
    Rose Shuker Williamstown, MA
  • “To me, “live your education” means to aim for learning in everything you do - not just in the classes and schoolwork. Every experience in life has educational value, so the more experiences I have the more educated I can be.”
    Will Harris
    Will Harris East Chatham, NY
  • “There are no boundaries between our times for learning and our times for living; this is because of the fact that we have classes at all different times of day, and because all our activities are intermingled with our classes. We live at the place we go to school, so people learn everyday all day even outside of the classroom.”
    Iona Green
    Iona Green Chatham, NY
  • “A sense that everybody matters, that you are in a community where everyone can make a difference and reach their full potential, where you are interdependent and you work together, and most importantly where you understand that you can do whatever you want to do and whatever it is that you do, you have got to make a difference. I think that, more than anything, defines my experience at Buxton.”
    Peter Shumlin
    Peter Shumlin Governor of Vermont, Buxton Alumni

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