Why Latin Doesn’t Offer Honors English

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By Lauren Salzman Honors US History, Honors Physics, Honors Latin, Honors Pre-Calculus. These are only a few of the multitude of honors courses that the Latin School offers, yet none happen to be in the English department. Having always been perplexed by this, I decided to set out and discover why. The main reason I discovered for English honors courses not existing was that each English class is taught as if it were already an honors course.  In order to seek a view from someone new to Latin, I talked to English teacher Ms. Callis. Having come from Worcester Academy in Massachusetts, Ms. Callis’s old school had honors English starting sophomore year, while juniors and seniors took AP English classes. I asked Ms. Callis what spoke to her about Latin and she responded with, “I liked the diversity of curriculum, people, and autonomy. The variety of approaches, of text, and styles is really refreshing.” If Latin were to offer honors and AP English classes, then students would not be able to benefit from the fresh ideas that others have to offer when approaching a text. Callis says, “I think that writing and literature are things that demand growth. English is a progression. But at the same time, skills are so specific to an individual that in an honors classroom, students have all different approaches. I don’t think it actually matters.” Unlike math or science where students can be more easily grouped based on ability, English is quite different. Often times I have been sitting in my class with one idea of what a story means, but then a classmate of mine raises his/her hand and points something out to which I was completely blind.  As stated earlier, it is Latin’s philosophy that every English class is treated as if it were honors level. If you set a precedent that every English class is at a high level, then students can continue to improve without thinking “they can’t.” Students will not feel unimportant and their opinions invalidated simply because they aren’t in an honors class. Ms. Callis noted that, “If you ask for excellence, then they [the students] will get there. It just takes a different amount of time for some (which is okay).” Ms. Callis, having also taught AP courses at her old school says that she is not fond of the AP classes. Students shouldn’t need a for-profit organization to provide them with self-gratification. There is something refreshing in saying that Latin does not need AP distinction to create a rigorous curriculum. After all, Latin is an independent school and prides itself on learning to learn, and providing students with the freedom to learn and interpret the world around them.  In addition to hearing from a new staff member, I looked to Mr. Tempone to provide insight and his views on honors English at Latin. An interesting side note he pointed out is that starting in 2016, all sophomore through senior English classes are going to be chosen by students (electives). Therefore, it would be almost impossible to have honors classes for every single course. “Having honors English would be a huge mistake anyway,” Mr. Tempone says, “because it would further restrict scheduling for the students. Students who might achieve at an honors level in mathematics or science aren’t necessarily honors students in English and history, so creating a section of honors English would further track students, restrict scheduling, and misplace students.” Just because a student can process things faster than his/her peers in math, does not mean that s/he is more equipped to analyze Shakespeare. Another interesting point to consider is the role that socioeconomics plays. Mr. Tempone explains, “there’s always the issue with students and their parents thinking they should be in honors when they shouldn’t be. Eliminating honors English eliminates that stress for students and stops the ever increasing role that socioeconomics plays in dictating who has the grades good enough for honors and who doesn’t.” In English more than any other subject, students often look to their parents or tutors to help them write an iron-clad thesis statement, or analyze a passage. Often times, students who perhaps shouldn’t be in honors classes hire a tutor in order to sustain them at the higher level. If honors English were offered, the school runs the risk of having students who believe they need to be in the honors class but in fact are not necessarily fit to. Like Ms. Callis echoed, having an even playing field for all students allows them to learn from each other, bounce ideas back and forth, collaborate and continue to grow.  “Some of the best students I’ve ever had were B/B+ students, and I’d certainly consider them ‘honorable’,” Mr. Tempone says. Do we measure honor based on the grade one receives or how well they can contribute to a discussion? Based on Mr. Tempone’s responses, one can assume he, along with most other teachers would rather teach B students who are curious learners and who strive to improve rather than kids who believe they have everything figured out. In my tenth grade English class, everyone read the book Purple Hibiscus over the summer. After analyzing every possible detail, we had to write an in-class essay. About a week into our next unit, we received our graded essays back. My teacher, Mr. Joyce, stood at the front of the class and told everyone that our average was a C-. But then he reassured us that it was okay since C actually meant average. As you could guess, that supposed reassurance didn’t make us feel better, myself included. But as Mr. Joyce helped my peers and me through the revision process, I had a change of heart. If I had received a C on a chemistry test, I would have freaked out—It would have indicated that I didn’t know the material. But with English, instead of making me mad, a C can push me to discover how and why parts of a text matter. It can push me to write and then rewrite. If I had received an A and had no red marks on my paper, then maybe honors English classes should exist. But I, along with my teachers, view English class as a way to explore, persist, and improve. For these reasons, along with the idea that everyone brings something to the table, I do not think honors English classes will be added to the course catalogue anytime soon.]]>