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Curriculum Spotlight: English 4, Reading Disney

For the 2019-20 school year, the English department transitioned the senior English experience. While we still offer AP Literature, in lieu of a full-year English 4 course, we created a line-up of semester-long electives. By allowing for a deeper dive into the content, the electives’ topical focus prepares our students for college coursework. The electives focus on a particular author or genre or theme but are aligned with one another in terms of their learning outcomes insofar as students’ skills are concerned. Some titles may not seem surprising: The Novella, Jane Austen, Coming of Age. Others, like Dr. Karen Hiles’s Reading Disney, however, tend to be met with some surprise. Disney? Aren’t seniors a little old for that? “Not at all,” says Hiles, who taught a version of the course at the collegiate level at Muhlenberg College. “One of the merits of this rich topic is that the Disney films are terrific for exploring concepts in cultural studies about the representation of gender and race—and even nature, progress, violence and individualism—on screen. But the course also offers an opportunity for students to revisit formative stories and characters from their childhood, and to reflect on how those stories have shaped who they are today, just as they prepare to depart for college and leave childhood behind. As the seniors look back at something close to their hearts with a newly critical eye, they can see how much they have grown.”  

You can click here for a handout Hiles compiled of sentences pulled from her students’ Disney memoirs: “Our opening writing assignment was to write about any Disney-related memory you have from your childhood, and to reflect on what that memory means to you today,” explains Hiles. “I was totally blown away reading them. They were so poignant, and each one said something unique about each student, each family. And yet each person’s experience—no matter where in the world it took place—is recognizable. The compilation strikes me as really special, as I think about the seniors bonding as a class before they go through a major rite of passage and disperse in June.”