Friday, January 10, 2014

Great Courses @ the Prep: Censorship

In today's blog post, read about one of the great courses the Prep offers - Censorship with Mr. Coyle.
Mr. Joe Coyle

About ten years ago, a former Prep English Department chairperson wanted to help Prep graduates make the transition from high school to college English classes smoother. The thinking was that by allowing rising seniors to choose from a variety of elective courses which they were passionate about, our graduates would be more engaged during their final semester and better prepped for higher education. Mr. Joe Coyle proposed two electives, both of which still run: Literature, Language, and Culture of Northern Ireland and the subject of today's post Censorship in Literature.

Why Censorship?

The idea was twofold: to teach books no one else was teaching at the secondary level - especially at a Jesuit school like the Prep; and to compel high school senior boys to read. I wanted these young men to get excited about reading books.

How did the syllabus evolve?

The first thing I did was consult the American Library Association's list of top 100 banned (or frequently challenged) books. The list is varied and the criteria for submission are diverse. I realized after the first year that it wasn't working - trying to teach Ulysses by James Joyce to anyone is difficult, let alone high school seniors. In addition, students have already read several of the books on the list. During that summer, I reflected on the course, bagged it, and started over. I asked the question, "What are 5 books that guys would truly want to read?" In order to adhere to the course's purpose - namely, censorship - I kept Harry Potter, which frequently occupies the top spot for banned, challenged, or censored books.

What other books do students get to read?

After Harry, the books get darker and more complex. We read 25th Hour, whose author is one of the main writers for the HBO series Game of Thrones. Then we move on to Fight Club, which in my opinion is a book that can change someone's life. The papers my guys write for Chuck Palahniuk's book are some of the best I get to grade as a teacher. We also read Trainspotting and Requiem for a Dream.

How do you assess your students?

Comprehension tests, class participation, and papers.

Are there any upcoming changes for the course?

For 2014-2015, I'm dropping Harry and 25th Hour. We'll start with Fight Club, read Trainspotting and Requiem, then for the remainder of the semester, we'll watch, analyze, and discuss - with the help of Prep alum and Philadelphia Homicide Detective Lt. Philip Reihl '80 - the first season of the HBO series, The Wire.

What is you favorite thing about teaching Censorship?

I love the depth of our class discussions. If you want to listen to some good, thoughtful, and sincere conversations about books that strike a chord with young men, sit in on my class.

This blog post was written by Mr. Ed Turner '00, Director of Admission.

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