Electing an Education: Reflections on Nearly Three Decades of Creating Curriculum at Waynflete

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Lorry has been teaching English in the Middle and Upper School at Waynflete since 1987, inspiring her students to love literature, training them to read and write and helping them to discover their own voices.

After a move to a new home this summer, I spent a good deal of my time unpacking boxes of books. I performed this task with my usual sense of literary organization, cataloging fiction from memoir and poetry from drama. I continued filling shelves designated for male, female, foreign, in translation and in a foreign language. But one large box was labeled “Upper School Electives,” and these well-worn books needed a different rule of order, for they are separated in a more eclectic and far-reaching category than all the others.

It has been a privilege teaching in the Waynflete English department where junior and senior electives create this interesting collection of titles. When the department considers classes for elective choices, we discuss books within the canon and more contemporary titles. Literature is chosen to represent region, genre, style, gender, ethnicity, historical era and thematic idea – often creating a specific reading list that reflects all of all these descriptors. Southern Literature is a class that typifies this model. The reading focuses on the voice of the American south with speeches by Sojourner Truth and drama by August Wilson, novels by Toni Morrison and poetry by James Dickey. With our alternating years of World and American literature, students have the choice to move around the globe. For example, through its study of fiction, film, and historical documents, African Literature examines the experiences of cultures throughout the continent from the time of first contact with Europeans through conquest, colonization, and independence, tracing the efforts of the indigenous African people to re-imagine post-colonial identities in the context of a modern and increasingly globalized world.

In developing elective classes, teachers are encouraged to pursue their passions and interest, bringing personal and professional energy to the teaching curriculum. When I first taught Literature of the Holocaust, I used this elective to further my research and writing. This research became the foundation for a published guide for teachers on the Holocaust of World War ll, which I completed during a sabbatical.  I soon enlarged the curriculum to include genocide of the world, both past and present. The class examines the historic relevance of genocide in the contemporary world with readings about Rwanda, Nigeria, Armenia and Haiti.

The elective system at Waynflete has also afforded me the good fortune to co-teach Word and Image with Judy Novey, the chair of the Visual Arts department, This unique and interdisciplinary class was created from our shared fascination for the representative ideas in the visual and written arts. With one-of-a- kind artist books, students combine the imagery that illuminates a visual and written idea. The bookmaking poses the challenge of thinking about expressing self with poetry and personal essay in combination with drawing, painting and photographic imagery. The bookmaking answers the essential questions, What is the meaning of metaphor in both the visual and written arts? How does form reflect content? The emergent books are examples of multiple intelligences working together, challenging students to use words, images, and book binding to simultaneously create their ideas and hone them.  See the embedded picture gallery for a sampling of the books.The most essential quality of our elective program is the opportunity it creates for students to choose their classes, and this extends to all departments in the Upper School. Choice empowers their learning and creates a challenge to invest in the expectations of the class. Electives teach students to plan a balanced transcript that includes writing, reading and research. Students benefit from the depth of study and sequence of Biology to Advanced Biology. Environmental Science uses our school and larger communities to examine our global footprint. Language students move through challenging composition, film and literature classes in expanding their oral skills. Interdisciplinary classes in the visual arts and English and History help students expand their critical thinking in the liberal arts.The elective program of our Upper School holds unique benefits for our students. I have witnessed the energy and enthusiasm of a junior who selected Literature of Vietnam in order to further his discovery of his family’s experience as political refugees to this country. One of my advisees who returned from a term at the Chewonki Semester School as a junior was able to further her growing personal commitment to the environment by electing Environmental Science. Students make important decisions in choosing elective classes, which provide the opportunity to dig deeply into specific worlds of interest while still creating a solid academic foundation necessary to move forward beyond the Waynflete experience.

When I held in my hands this past summer the well-annotated books of all the classes I have taught in the Upper School, I recognized the choices I have been able to make as a teacher: to pursue what I did not know, to develop my interests, and to learn from others. It occurred to me then that I, too, have received a Waynflete education.