Curriculum and classic literature

Curriculum and classic literature
High School English teachers look over the new curriculum that will be implemented in their schools during a recent workshop at Church of the Holy Family in Sewell. Photo by Peter G. Sánchez

High School English teachers look over the new curriculum that will be implemented in their schools during a recent workshop at Church of the Holy Family in Sewell.
Photo by Peter G. Sánchez

WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP — Homer’s “Odyssey.” Elie Wiesel’s “Night.” Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” Every year, these literary classics and others are read and discussed by teachers and students in classrooms throughout the United States.

Thirty high school English teachers from the Camden Diocese’s Catholic secondary schools — those whose job it is to introduce students to classic literature — participated in an all-day workshop here at Church of the Holy Family’s Aquin Center.

The gathering brought together the educators for fellowship; to discuss planned changes to the English curriculum; and to hear a keynote presentation on “Great Books in Catholic Perspectives.”

Dr. Gregory Glazov, Professor of Biblical Studies and chair of the Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology at Seton Hall University, South Orange, N.J., led the talk, discussing literary works from a distinctly Catholic perspective.

“Great books” such as “Hamlet,” “Odyssey,” and “Night,” he said, “deal with a great theme, spiritually elevating language, and speaks across the ages to us.”

Dr. Glazov focused on six themes that are demonstrated in a “great” work of literature: the unconquerable human spirit, the twists and turns from youth to old age, love, adventure and courage, humor and irony, and patriotism.

Books with these themes “exemplify the principles by which we should live our lives: wisdom, justice, courage and moderation, the virtues that make up the essence of the tradition of the humanities,” he said.

Dr. Glazov identified Saint Augustine’s “Confessions,” J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” and George Washington’s Farewell Address, among others, as required reading for today’s students.

After his presentation, teachers discussed the upcoming changes to the English educational curriculum for elementary and high schools in the Diocese of Camden.

With the help of Notre Dame University’s ACE (Alliance for Catholic Education) Collaborative for Academic Excellence, leadership from the diocesan Office of Catholic Schools and its school teachers have been working together to improve the classroom curriculum and instruction.

The change in the English classrooms is just one part of the Office of Catholic Schools’ plan to enhance diocesan curriculum. In the past few years, the subjects of math and science have both undergone developments in curriculum.

During the workshop, teachers who helped to write the English curriculum shared its benefits with their colleagues.

“How do we help our students build the skills of reading and writing?” asked Nancy Werner-Kaiser, English Department chair and teacher at Camden Catholic High School in Cherry Hill.

Teachers need to ask themselves, “How does reading set a model for students, with good examples of writing, so (students) can express themselves?”

With effective classroom reading and instruction, she argued, students will learn “self-discipline, self-control and self-reliance, and feel that they are better able to move forward in their lives, discovering their part in this world, and what God wants them to do.”

Bill Watson, director of curriculum and assessment for the diocesan Office of Catholic Schools, praised the “dedication and expertise of the teachers” who have developed, and will implement the new curriculum next fall during a year-long pilot program.

“Sessions like this are invaluable for incubating the great ideas that turn into excellent teaching in the classroom,” he said.

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