Brooklyn private independent school


The Upper School English Department at Berkeley Carroll aspires to raise students into confident and curious citizens whose reading, writing, and speaking skills will, in the words of our mission statement, prepare them "for success in college and for the greater endeavor -- a life of critical, ethical, and global thinking."

Over their four years, students read a wide array of novels, plays, essays, stories, and poems with the goal that they will develop their own tastes, a lifelong love of reading, and deeper insights into the human experience. Ninth graders gain core reading and writing skills while studying coming-of-age literature and the Hero's Journey, and eleventh graders explore American history, culture, literature, and politics in our interdisciplinary American Studies course co-taught with the History department. Tenth and twelfth graders, meanwhile, choose from a variety of semester electives designed with particular student interests in mind. All four years prize depth over breadth and cultivate students' increasing powers of abstraction and analysis.

9th Grade

Myths & Legends

How can literature help us to live with unanswerable questions?
Who is a hero, and what are heroes for?
What is clear expression and how can we achieve it?

Ninth graders spend their first year of high school reading and discussing myths and legends: the stories we have told ourselves about ourselves from culture to culture, age to age. Using Joseph Campbell’s schema of the hero’s journey as a starting place, we focus particularly on the men and women who have taken risks—of faith, of intellect, of caring—in order to inspire and redefine their cultures. Two ancient texts, Genesis and Homer’s Odyssey, anchor the course; students also study such classic and modern texts as Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Toni Morrison’s Sula as they explore human myth making, hundreds of years ago and today.

10th Grade

Women on the Edge

“When a woman says, ‘I have nothing to wear!’, what she really means is, ‘There’s nothing here for who I’m supposed to be today.”
Caitlin Moran, How to Be a Woman

How and to what extent is being a woman a performance?
What are gender norms, where do they come from, why do they persist—and what happens when women and men resist them?
What is a heroine’s journey, and how does it serve and/or challenge society?
What spaces can women make or find for themselves in a patriarchy?

In this course, we’ll hear about (and from) several women who live on the edge of what various societies recognize as normal, right, or sane, exploring the reasons why these women might seek or resist that edge, and why society might want to draw them back or keep them on the margin. Through class discussions, written analyses, and fiction exercises, students will explore the danger and charm, the limits and freedom of radical behavior for women. We’ll also explore the degrees to which gender identities themselves can be both restrictive and freeing.

Youth in Literature: Teenage Riot

What’s distinctive about the adolescent mind? What can teens dream up that others can’t?

This one semester course will examine the lives of revolutionary girls and boys in literature— it promotes the idea that Joan of Arc, Malala Yousafazi, Chris McCandless and other young folks envisioned a world that was beyond their immediate grasp. This course will also examine the evolution of the adolescent mind, using literature that explores the physiological, psychological, and sociological reality the modern teenager.

Will's World

What does it mean to grow up in Shakespeare’s world?
How does Shakespeare depict the relationship between adolescence and adulthood?
How can we use Shakespeare’s perspective on adolescence as a lens through which to view our own modern perception of growing up?

“I would my father look’d but with my eyes.”—Hermia, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Across the course of his career as England’s finest playwright, Shakespeare repeatedly dramatizes narratives of growing up—exploring adolescence and its eternal conflict with adulthood. Issues of adolescence—from the transcendent to the trivial—all make their way into his plays: falling in love, staying out late, going to school, getting into fights with parents, even listening to bad music. In all of this, Shakespeare explores what it means and how it feels to grow up.

In this course, then, we’ll attend to Shakespeare’s interest in the transition from adolescence into adulthood, and discuss how the concept of growing up organizes the major thematic and structural concerns of his plays. From his magical comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, to his action-packed history, Henry IV, Part One, to his fantastic farce, Twelfth Night, to his complex romance, The Tempest, we’ll explore the diversity of growing up in Shakespeare’s world and try to uncover its relevance to our own world. Students will actively participate in class discussion, develop close reading skills through socratic seminars and short analytical essays, give presentations on key critical terminology, and of course spend a bit of time every week acting.

Identity and Independence: Nigerian Postcolonial Literature

How do politics and culture influence an individual’s personal development?
How can we use literature to understand the effects of Western colonialism on the development of postcolonial nations?
How can literature challenge generalizations and misconceptions about “Africa”?

The bildungsroman, or coming-of-age story, addresses the moral, psychological, and spiritual development of the protagonist. In this course, students will focus on coming-of-age stories set in Nigeria during independence movements from the 1960s onward. Though we will examine some common threads of the Nigerian postcolonial experience, we’ll also use our readings to explore how identifiers such as gender, religion, ethnic group, race, and age might affect one's perceptions of key moments in Nigeria's history. Through reading the novels and stories of authors such as Chinelo Okparanta, Chris Abani, Sefi Atta, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, we will discuss what it means to develop a sense of identity in the midst of political, social, and cultural upheaval. We’ll also read critical essays by scholars such as Edward Said, Frantz Fanon, and Chinua Achebe to consider the notion of postcolonial literature as an effort to rebel against centuries of western colonialism and oppression.

The Harlem Renaissance and its Discontents

How can works of literature participate in a political discussion?
How relevant is an author’s racial, historical and geographical background to his or her writing?

As World War I was ending and the 1920’s roared in, a loose association of idealist and elite black artists with a few white allies—poets, essayists, painters, musicians—set out to “lift the race,” to change social attitudes, and so to spark a self-conscious renaissance of black art and literature. In this course we will not only steep ourselves in this exciting era, but also join later black writers in evaluating the movement, and in exploring the many purposes and effects of black literature in the first half of the 20 century. Since writers like DuBois, Hughes, Hurston, and Ellison tended to agree that literature was vitally useful, but to disagree passionately about what to use literature for, our reading, writing, and discussions in this course will lead us to ask larger questions about literature as a social and political force. We will also take at least one field trip to historic sites of the Harlem Renaissance. Texts include The Harlem Renaissance Reader, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.

Contemporary World Literature

How effectively can literature help us learn about a culture and its values?
Are there themes and questions in literature that can be considered universal?
Is looking for such themes a worthwhile and ethical pursuit?
Can a broad survey course like this be interpreted as a kind of literary tourism, where exposure is mistaken for knowledge and understanding?
How useful is the literary category of bildungsroman in analyzing the development of the young protagonists that occupy the majority of our works?

Through a study of geographically diverse literature from the last 25 years, we will consider how culture, religion, class, identity, race, ethnicity, gender, and politics shape individuals and their societies. We will engage our questions through an examination of the following texts:

The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy, 1997, India
Claire of the Sea Light, Edwidge Danticat, 2013, Haiti
Daphne’s Lot, Chris Abani, 2013, Nigeria and the United States
Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi, 2000, Iran
Dreaming in Cuban, Cristina Garcia, 1992, The United States and Cuba
The Vegetarian, Han Kang, 2007, South Korea

Romantics, Rebels, and Renegades

What is the relationship between passion and art?
Who were the Romantics, what mattered to them, and to what extent are we Romantic now?

“All good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.”—William Wordsworth

This course explores the works and lives of the British Romantics—the dashing, daring poets whose impassioned responses to the power of the imagination and to the beauty and enchantment of nature produced some of history’s most intense poetry. Emerging in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, these poets rejected the carefully controlled, well-regulated poetry of their Enlightenment predecessors to forge a new poetry of passionate experience and encounter. From the “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” Lord Byron to the crazed Coleridge to the more contemplative Wordsworth, we will consider the range of poetic techniques and concepts developed by these revolutionary poets.

Though largely neglected in the early twentieth century, the Romantics have enjoyed a resurgence of interest since the late 1950s. As a class we will explore why the Romantics have come back into favor in the modern world. What aspects of our artistic culture make their work relevant to us now? Students will actively participate in class discussion, develop critical close reading skills through short analytical essays, and complete a larger project uncovering the connections between a modern artistic phenomenon—horror films, popular music, celebrity gossip, etc.—and the writing of the Romantics. Major works will include Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience, Byron’s Manfred, brief selections from Wordsworth’s Prelude, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and shorter works by Keats, Shelley, and Coleridge. Though primarily focused on British poets, this course provides students with an essential literary context within which to consider more familiar American writers such as Thoreau, Emerson, Frost, and Dickinson, as well as the inimitable and ubiquitous Romantic contemporary, Jane Austen.

Voice & Style

What is my voice as a writer?
How can close attention to grammar and style help me to capture that voice on paper?
How can I learn to give better feedback to fellow writers?

How does sentence length communicate feeling, from frenzied enthusiasm to controlled disdain? When does punctuation do more than tell a reader to take a pause? What makes the transition from one paragraph to the next poignant or hilarious or heartbreaking? Voice & Style is a one semester English course that aims to help you become a more creative and confident writer, someone who sees the big picture and understands the value in details. While writing and revising personal essays, we will study grammar, punctuation, and usage; in each assignment, we’ll work to master a new skill or style. Revisions will happen through large and small group workshops, providing an opportunity to learn with and from your peers (and see the world through their eyes). Our hope is that in this course you will learn what makes writing a flexible, powerful, and even exuberant tool for self-expression.

Mass Media and Society (Not offered in 2017-18)

How have the principles, purpose, and practice of journalism evolved throughout American history?
How can mass media influence society and culture?
What does it mean to be an ethical journalist?

What's the goal of mass media? Is it to entertain us? Shock us? Inform us? Inspire us? At various points in American history, the answer has been all of the above. In this course, we will examine the relationship between mass media--in particular, journalism--and American society. We will explore some historical trends and analyze newspapers, magazines, and digital media from different eras. Though we'll pay attention to the structure and style of various works, our main focus will be on content as we discuss how journalists have used their writing and photography for social change--or not. For example, we'll analyze the political newspapers that drove the American Revolution; the articles and photographs of the early 20th century muckrakers who strove to expose social and economic injustice; and the sensationalistic newspapers of Pulitzer and Hearst. Through analytical writing and class discussion, we'll investigate how the media from these different periods influence today's print and digital journalism. In addition, students will practice writing news, opinion, and features articles and prepare these works for possible publication in the BC Blotter, Youth Journalism International, and other outlets for young journalists.

The Craft of Poetry (Not offered in 2017-18)

What are the rules of poetry and how can poets break them properly?

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide . . .
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out . . .
I want them to water-ski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

—Billy Collins, “Introduction to Poetry”

This is a course for people who would like to drop mice into poems, water-ski over the surface of poems, and listen to poems hum. To be sure, we will deepen our familiarity with poetic devices and explore in detail how sound, rhythm, structure, and diction work together to make meaning in poetry—and to be sure, we will write some essays as we do this—but we will also approach poetry through as many side doors as possible, by imitating it, translating it, cutting it up and putting it back together, illustrating it, performing it, writing it, and reading many, many, different kinds of poets and poems.

11th Grade

American Studies

What does “American” mean?
What are the contingencies that shape history?
How can literary texts help us to read the past, and vice versa?
Who narrates history?
How and to what extent can we shape history?

America is a country, but it is also an idea. The American Studies course is devoted to the study of that idea and the country that produced it—where both began, and how both have changed. In this course we will study 200+ years of American thought. How did America become "America"? What ideas form the bedrock of this idea of America? What makes America different, and for that matter, what do we believe makes us different that isn't really different at all?

The purpose of this co-taught, double-credit course is to encourage you to be independent learners and thinkers as well as thoughtful, engaged citizens. We hope that you will be able to draw from what you've learned in the classroom to understand what you see outside the classroom. With an eye toward college preparation, this course promises to be a unique challenge in fostering reading, writing, discussion, and research skills. Your coursework will culminate in a research essay and walking tour located in New York City, as well as a double-period final exam.

12th Grade

Coming of Age in the Novel

Each event spoke with a cryptic tongue. And the moments of living slowly revealed their coded meanings. There was the wonder I felt when I first saw a brace of mountainlike, spotted, black-and-white horses clopping down a dusty road through clouds of powdered clay.

—Richard Wright, Black Boy

From Hamlet to Harry Potter to Hamilton, we just can’t seem to get away from the story of a hero or heroine’s growth from youthful naiveté towards hard-earned experience. But where does this familiar story come from? What are its formal qualities? How has it developed over time, and why are we still so interested in it? What does it mean to grow up and how have cultural conceptions of growing up evolved over time? Turning to three major novels in this course, we will encounter both the mystery and wonder of growing up that Richard Wright hints at in the epigraph to this description. If literature speaks to us at times “with a cryptic tongue,” this is perhaps because the events of our own lives—growing up, falling in love, exploring the past, and uncovering identity—are no less mysterious than a secret language itself, full of “coded meanings.” In our class discussions and projects we will explore literature’s secret language of growing up, zooming in on the artistic style, structure, and symbols that come together to produce exemplary coming of age novels.

Other Voices, Other Rooms, Truman Capote
Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
My Antonia, Willa Cather
Black Boy, Richard Wright
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce

Literature of the Middle East

How can we use literature to develop a deeper, more complex and meaningful understanding of the Middle East outside of the images presented to us in the media?

Students enrolled in this class will explore contemporary literature from the Middle East. Over the course of the semester we will focus on the themes of religious and political oppression, gender roles, and the diversity of cultural identities in the Middle Eastern diaspora as they are found in modern literature. Our primary texts will be novels and short fiction, however students will have the opportunity to research and write about poetry and creative non-fiction. Authors whose work may be included: Naguib Mahfouz, Reza Aslan, Nawal El Saadawi, and Shahrnush Parsipur.

The Essay

Where can self-reflection lead me?
How much help can I get with my writing, and how much am I self-taught?
How does an audience shape my writing?

Most Berkeley Carroll seniors have written dozens of literary critical essays; this course offers students a chance to write more personal essays. Students will read and write narrative, definitive, and exploratory essays, paying particular detail to voice, detail, and structure as they pull together comprehensive writing portfolios. All students who join this class must be willing to read their work aloud and willing to give and receive constructive criticism.

Political Writer in Exile

How and why does a book or other literary work become a threat to a country's political ideology?
Is the political writer's voice the same voice of the disenfranchised?
How does a writer's political identity shape his or her experience in the world?
What does it mean to leave home and never return?

Political: Of or pertaining to citizens; political rights
Exile: Expulsion from one’s native land by authoritative decree. Anyone separated from his or her country or home voluntarily or by force of circumstance.

This course explores numerous accounts of political exile: both voluntarily and involuntarily. Writers and artists who live in exile may be considered the voice of a political or cultural movement that is a threat to a country’s political stability. Often times, his or her voice is valued by the people of the country: namely, the poor and working class. This class examines the exiled voice from all parts of the world and investigates the phenomenon of the refugee in various political and cultural circumstances. Seniors read works of literature that address the relationship between the individual and the country, including Anchee Min's Red Azalea, Shakespeare's The Tempest and Milan Kundera's, The Book Of Laughter And Forgetting. As students learn about the political context of each author, they will develop their own political identity and create writings that give voice to their concerns.

Fiction Writing

How can we use language to capture the uncapturable?
How can we improve our skills as readers and writers of fiction?

Consider the craft of fiction writing as your passport to new worlds. Whether the trip is an extended journey in the pages of a novel or a stroll around the block in a short story, when you come to the last page you will have been to a place previously unknown. Over the course of the semester, be prepared to take trips with authors like Andrea Lee, Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Carver, Jamaica Kincaid, and many others. Through these trips you will learn to craft new worlds and cultivate your own literary voice and style. During in-depth craft lessons we will learn how to develop necessary elements of craft. This course will require students to produce a significant amount of new, creative work both inside and outside of the classroom. We will also dedicate significant time to the revision process so that by semester’s end, each student has a strong portfolio of his or her work. As part of the revision process students will be expected to participate in regular writing workshops where they will have the opportunity to provide and receive thoughtful criticism from their peers. Ours will be a classroom where fear has no place, only passion and a willingness to travel.

The Devil’s Party: Satan in Literature

“The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devil’s Party without knowing it”

—William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

“But what’s puzzling you is the nature of my game”

—The Rolling Stones, “Sympathy for the Devil”

From William Blake to the Rolling Stones, some of history’s most imaginative artists have fallen under the dark spell of Satan. But what, precisely, is the nature of his game? What new perspectives on good and evil, authority and resistance, control and chaos, does the devil allow these artists to embrace? What are the origins of the devil’s place in literature, and why does he continue to occupy a central space in popular music, horror films, and even teen fiction? In this course we’ll explore the long literary and artistic legacy of the Devil, tracing his tangled trajectory from Greek mythology through Christian doctrine to Renaissance tragedy and finally to twentieth- and twenty-first-century popular culture. Students will use Satan as a lens through which to examine concepts such as authorial intent, counter-narratives, anti-heroes, and sublimity; in uncovering the evolution of evil in literature, students will gain a new perspective on literature’s relationship to moral and ethical good.

The Family Tree

How do we decide what constitutes a family? What does our family owe us? What do we owe them?

The term “dysfunctional family” comes up a lot in literature classes, often acting as a stone thrown from glass house to glass house. In this course, we will look at families of all different compositions, examining how relationships bloom and shrivel and what people will do to keep relatives close or push them away. Using class discussion, written analyses, and creative work, we’ll also explore how and why society critiques familial units in the way we do.

Pulling from texts like Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, playwrights like Paula Vogel, and various short stories, we will find ourselves fully unpacking what Leo Tolstoy meant when he wrote, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Note: Sometimes families are interesting, cohesive and fulfilled. That’s great for them. Maybe we’ll talk about them too.

Let Me Tell You: Dissecting First Person Fiction

What decisions are authors making when they choose to write in the first person? How does first person narration inform plot, setting, and themes (and vice versa)? How do we, in our own writing, create voices both memorable and authentic?

In his article “The Dangers of First Person Narration,” author Stuart Evers writes, “Being inside the mind of a character is a thrilling reading experience—and one of the novel's great advantages. But this intimacy comes at a price. The ‘I’ must be compelling at all times.” In this course, we’ll be looking at literature in which the storyteller is processing and sharing the messy story they’re living; it will become clear that just because a character is telling a story doesn’t mean they fully understand it or truly want to share everything. Through novels, many short stories, and a graphic novel, we’ll come closer to understanding what makes a first person narrative successful, which will set us up to do our own creative writing.

Real Tragedy Reconstructed

In writing about real- world events, what are authors trying to accomplish? How do truth and storytelling intersect? How do real people become characters; how do real events become well-constructed plot; how does a real place become a setting to be mined for symbolic detail?

Conflict, on some scale, is necessary for a successful piece of literature, but how authors find and include that conflict differ. While many pieces of literature focus on conflict that feels real—that our human heart recognizes, even if it never really happened—this course is focused on the drama, nonfiction, and poetry that zero in on actual events and construct narratives out of them. We will be engaging with Hurricane Katrina, the rape culture pervasive on college campuses, and conflict in Liberia, among other events, while exploring issues and events we think could come to life in a new way if written about artfully. Essentially, we will study how and why the larger-than-life happenings of our real world affect us when translated to the page.

Science Writing

How can good writing help us to communicate important scientific topics to a general audience?
What does science writing provide that technical scientific writing doesn’t?
What are the differences and similarities between how scientists and writers “know”?
What can we discover when we look very, very closely at the world?

Scientists want to know how everything works, so they form and test hypotheses, collecting facts and developing theories; writers want to know how everything feels and what it all means, so they notice details and write them all down as a way to discover more. In this course, we will be both scientists and writers. We will make observations and sift through scientific data, and we will also learn how to write personally and memorably about our discoveries and their significance. We will address a number of current science topics together, but each student will also be able to choose a particular area of interest as we practice writing personal essays, investigative articles, and even a few poems. We will observe the world with fierce attention in our attempt to know—everything. There are no prerequisites for this course.

Documenting the World (Not offered in 2017-18)

Whose perspective do we get in a story, and how does perspective shape our experience of a story?
What is a “true” story? Are “right” and “wrong” absolute terms, or relative ones?
When is no decision still a decision?
What are the responsibilities of the individual to his or her society? Of the society to the individual?

We face ethical dilemmas every day, in ways large and small. At the supermarket, we wonder, “Is it more environmentally sound to eat tomatoes flown in from South America or beef raised in upstate New York?” Seeing a homeless person, we ask ourselves, “Should I give a needy person a handout and make an immediate impact, or get involved in an organization that addresses the root causes of homelessness?” The goal of this course is not to impart answers to these questions, but rather to examine what processes each of us can use to think through such questions and arrive at a principled ethical worldview. The course is built around a demanding reading list of nonfiction books, supplemented by documentary films. Both genres make claims to truth, but what exactly is a “true story” anyway? Any writer or filmmaker faces countless choices: whose story is told? from what angle? which characters are developed, and which are not? which facts are presented, and which are not? These choices reflect both conscious and unconscious biases of the writer or filmmaker. In this course, we will explore the very nature of truth itself.

Through discussion, personal reflection, critical analysis, persuasive writing, and service learning, students will be challenged to develop a personal ethical framework and apply it to their daily lives.

Reading War (Not offered in 2017-18)

Why do nations go to war? And even more importantly, why do individuals serve in battle, often willingly giving their lives?
Is there such a thing as a “moral war”?
What is the effect of war on those who lead it, those who serve in it, and those who stay at home waiting for news of it?

This course will examine these questions from a primarily literary perspective, rather than a purely historical or philosophical one. We will study the ways writers of drama and fiction have attempted to answer these questions from Ancient Greece to the Renaissance to the 20th century. The Roman philosopher and poet Horace wrote that “it is sweet and noble to die for one’s country,” a line so memorable and important that two thousand years later, it is engraved above Arlington National Cemetery. In our study, we will ask whether WWI poet Wilfred Owen is right when he calls Horace’s line “The old Lie.”

Mass Media and Society (Not offered in 2017-18)

How have the principles, purpose, and practice of journalism evolved throughout American history?
How can mass media influence society and culture?
What does it mean to be an ethical journalist?

What's the goal of mass media? Is it to entertain us? Shock us? Inform us? Inspire us? At various points in American history, the answer has been all of the above. In this course, we will examine the relationship between mass media--in particular, journalism--and American society. We will explore some historical trends and analyze newspapers, magazines, and digital media from different eras. Though we'll pay attention to the structure and style of various works, our main focus will be on content as we discuss how journalists have used their writing and photography for social change--or not. For example, we'll analyze the political newspapers that drove the American Revolution; the articles and photographs of the early 20th century muckrakers who strove to expose social and economic injustice; and the sensationalistic newspapers of Pulitzer and Hearst. Through analytical writing and class discussion, we'll investigate how the media from these different periods influence today's print and digital journalism. In addition, students will practice writing news, opinion, and features articles and prepare these works for possible publication in the BC Blotter, Youth Journalism International, and other outlets for young journalists.