Humane Letters

Humane Letters is a cornerstone of our school's liberal arts curriculum. These seminars meet for two hours daily and revolve around close textual reading of some of the best and most enduring works of philosophy, drama, narrative, and essay. Using at home study followed by in-class Socratic discussion, students learn to read carefully, discuss clearly, and write cogently. The purpose of the Humane Letters encourages students to understand and analyze the enduring principles of Western civilization through careful, integrated study of both history and great literature. This study is like life: cross-disciplinary and open-ended.

Grade 9

American History and Literature
Grade 9 Humane Letters introduces the basic chronology of events in American history from colonial times to the early 20th century. Students read original texts, with special attention given to the foundational texts of American democracy. Students discover the meanings of events in their historical contexts, and so understand how contemporary events are deeply rooted in the past.  Students also learn both the fundamental skills necessary to participate effectively in the seminar and how to write a basic, five-paragraph essay. Some highlights of the reading list include: The Federalist Papers Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage; Willa Cather’s My Antonia; Frederick Douglass’s A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.    

Grade 10

European History and Literature
Grade 10 students explore the history, literature, and political philosophy of England and Europe from 1066 through the early twentieth century. Students continue to work on writing coherent analytical essays and on developing more sophisticated organizational and stylistic techniques. The reading list inclues: T.S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral; Robert Bolt, A Man for All Seasons; Hobbes, Leviathan (selections); Locke, Of Civil Government (selections); Rousseau, Essay on the Origin of Inequality; Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities; Burke, Reflections on the French Revolution (selections); Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice; Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (Part III); Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto; Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment; George Orwell, Animal Farm; British poetry.    

Grade 11

Ancient & Early Church Studies
In Grade 11, Humane Letters focuses on the close reading and discussion of texts drawn from the classical Greek and the early Christian corpus. Students continue to work on writing analytical essays; they write at least six essays per semester. The reading list includes: Homer, Iliad and Odyssey; Aeschylus, Oresteia; Sophocles, Theban plays; Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War; Plato, Meno, Euthyphro, Gorgias, Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Republic; Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics; Augustine, Confessions; Athanasius, On the Incarnation.    

Grade 12

Western Politics & Philosophy
The final year of Humane Letters focuses on a close reading and discussion of texts in medieval and modern literature, philosophy, theology. and poetry. Students write approximately six essays per semester, and they are expected to argue with increasing depth, grace and sophistication. Their reading list includes: Augustine, The Spirit and the Letter; Luther, Commentary on Galatians (selections); Flannery O’Connor, Parker’s Back; Thomas Aquinas, Treatise on Law; Shakespeare, Macbeth, Hamlet; Locke, Second Treatise on Civil Government; Rousseau, On the Social Contract; John Stuart Mill, On Liberty; Dante, Inferno; James Agee, A Death in the Family; Raymond Carver, A Small, Good Thing; Montaigne, In Defense of Raymond Sebond; Descartes, Meditations; Wallace Stevens, "The Idea of Order at Key West” and “Sunday Morning”; Ethan Canin, The Palace Thief; Hegel, Reason in History; Marx, Alienated Labor and Private Property and Communism; Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov.