The 12th Grade Course
As of this year, we now offer
Advanced Placement English Language and
Composition for seniors in addition to juniors. Our texts come from a varity of cultural and historical backgrounds. We focus on
rhetorical styles and strategies. Rhetoric is the art of making
effective argument, taking into account the speaker's credibility, the
characteristics of the audience, and the logic employed by the speaker
to make the case and move the audience from one way of thinking to
another. We will, therefore, be reading a substantial number of
non-fiction texts, especially essays, rhetorical analysis always our
Style is the art of
choosing the right words (diction) and placing them in the right order
(syntax) to make clear the rhetorical purpose. The test of effective
choices in diction and syntax is coherent logic. In addition to diction and
syntax, effective writers employ imagery and figurative language to
generate weight and force in their rhetoric. Because
literary texts such as novels, short stories,
poetry and drama also have rhetorical
purposes and are stylistically rich, we will read with the tools of rhetorical and stylistic analysis. Does this
suggest that we are not concerned with literary interpretation?
While there is a difference between
this class and a literary interpretation course, the two are not
Literary meaning relies on effective language. We will examine the words,
the phrases, the clauses, the logic, the audience, and the writer's own
persona to see as clearly as possible just what is going on in a piece
of writing before we suggest possibilities of literary interpretation.
Thus the AP English Language course requires a very disciplined way
of reading that studies the language in its rich complexity. Everything
we read, non-fiction
alike, requires "rhetorical readers" to ask the following questions:
should I pay attention to this writer or speaker?
the audience already know?
What does the writer know about the audience
that shapes the rhetorical strategy?
in thought and/or action does the writer seek to bring about in the
How does this writer make sense to the
original audience, and
does it make sense to me?
writer's linguistic choices effective?
AP English Language and Composition will require us to become effective readers, deeply sensitive to the nuances of the language,
sharply aware of the
writer's use of style to make the meaning
unmistakably clear. As we read material originally written for audiences
different than we are, we must ask: how does the writer's style and
logic work (or not work) for us?
In addition to the texts specified for the course, you will need to develop a habit of reading high quality periodical writing such as you will find in The New Yorker, The Economist, Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic, National Review, or The New York Times Magazine (to list only a few). If you are at all familiar with these, it will be obvious to you that they represent a wide spectrum of opinion and political/cultural agendas. Be mindful, there is always an agenda; the key is to be able to decode the agenda of what you are reading as well as your own agenda as a reader--not always as easy as it sounds!
A great deal of
information comes to us through images in various forms, especially in
journalistic photography, advertising and cartoons. Visual information
is heavily coded, making assumptions about how we see and how our
response is shaped by content and composition of pictures. Often
language accompanies the images we see, but the interplay between an
image and the words that go with create some interesting effects. Does
the image shape how we read the words, or vice versa? What assumptions
shape how such images are presented to us? What assumptions do we hold
that shape how we will either understand or misunderstand? Image
makers have rhetorical purposes and use deliberate strategies to convey
meaning to specific audiences.
Creators of images
seek to shape our thinking, just as writers do. We will examine pictures
at various stages of the course, assessing their rhetorical composition
and strategy and the success or failure of that strategy. Just as we
must be careful critical readers, so also we must be careful critical
Reading and analysis such as described above shapes how we write and communicate in other ways that require collaboration. As quickly as possible we must put behind us the kind of thinking that treats students as solitary learners who write solely for the teacher. Nothing could be more contrary to the very nature of rhetorical thought and communication. The Harkness Table approach is essential to how this course works. From the very start, our reading, thinking and presentation of what we learn will push us to engage and teach one another as we persuade, narrate, exposit and explore the powers of language. You will learn to assess and produce
effective rhetoric. You will be asked to examine your own and your
peers' essays with the same critical discipline as the texts that we
study. Your own work will become the subject of rhetorical and stylistic
scrutiny to help you articulate, in discussion and in writing, things that matter to
you with clarity and force. Expect to engage your own thought processes and open yourself to both giving and receiving from your peers.
I hope you will develop "a voice of your own."
The authors we study will in effect become our writing mentors. They
will show us how to form good
thinking habits and urge us toward a
higher level of proficiency. I am certain that this course will change how
you think and why you write. A good thinker with a clear purpose can with
much work become a powerful writer. Train yourself to be "a force to be
reckoned with." You already have enough experience to know that becoming
a good rhetorical reader and communicator will put you in the minority in our
world of shallow discourse and sound byte politics. Imagine yourself as
one of those who can cut through the nonsense and whose words (written
and spoken) carry the weight of strong argumentation and powerful,
engaging style. This is a worthy goal! Engage the
challenge with resolve. If you will rise to this challenge, you will be
prepared to tackle the AP English Language Examination in late Spring.
I expect to learn much from you!