English curriculum should be updated

Abigail McArthur-Self, Editor-in-Chief

Literacy is an important skill. Reading, unless we enter a dystopia, will never cease to impact the way we live our lives.

Knowing what something says, why it was written and the relationship between them is a valuable skill that makes it easier to determine truth in an increasingly complicated world.

Traditional English classes, however, focus almost exclusively on the written word. We explore novels and poems and short stories. We explore essays and articles.

We read plays and speeches. If we’re lucky, we’ll get to see them performed after, but the focus is on reading.

Neuqua offers classes to help cover the deficiency in essential communication skills — optional semesters in things like public speaking, business writing and media studies.

All of these are skills just as important as reading and creating written works. We do discuss rhetorical devices and strategies. We discuss ethos, pathos, logos. But we rarely apply it to forms of media like advertisements. What we do is limited and up to teacher discretion, not a part of the curriculum.

Many teachers do incorporate aspects of media literacy into their classes. However, classes focusing on English outside of literature and rhetoric either don’t count for English credits or aren’t available until senior year.

This limits the number of students who are exposed to these areas of English. Some may not be aware of all the options — Neuqua is a complicated school, after all — and many students may not have the time.

Understanding ads and speeches and movies is not extra credit. It’s not optional. It’s a part of everyday life and should be incorporated more uniformly into the regular English curriculum. No student should lack essential skills in a field they have to study all four years.

In my personal experience, I have learned more about interpreting political cartoons, photographs and other visual literature in advanced history courses. We’ve also spent more time analyzing the use of propaganda and film techniques.

These skills are a large part of history, as well, but that shouldn’t be the first time they’re addressed. Moreover, advanced history courses are not a requirement.

English curriculum should be updated to include more information on the areas of study it currently lacks. It should prepare students in a world of broadcasted debates and rallies to dissect political speech the way it’s most often presented — on television or on websites like Youtube.

It should prepare students to find the themes and morals and messages in TV shows and movies and to understand that they can be just as complex and purposeful as written works.

We have screens in every classroom, for every student, but we are woefully unprepared to handle much of what we can access with them. English classes are not preparing us for every application of language in our lives.

If it is impossible to incorporate these things into a regular English curriculum, then perhaps it would be possible to expand the options to take classes like media studies before senior year and to count classes like public speaking for English credit. After all, students should not be penalized for considering what uses of English most apply to their lives and seeking them out.

Students should be provided with and encouraged in those opportunities as much as is possible with educational requirements and funding limits.

These changes, so far as I am aware, are not prohibited by either.