[Gr 9-11] Exploring Ethics in 20th-Century Literature

[Gr 9-11] Exploring Ethics in 20th-Century Literature

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Each session is a duration of two weeks.

  • Session 1  6/29-7/10
  • Session 2  7/13-7/24
  • Session 3  7/27-8/7
  • Session 4  8/10-8/21

    Class Schedule*

    Mon, Wed, Fri
    2 weeks, 3 times a week
    3:30 pm - 5:00 pm (EST)

    * The program will be automatically canceled if less than 3 students signed up for the program. (Subject to full tuition refund)

    Course Description

    Pre-requisites: Excellent reading skills and maturity.

    This course will examine the ways that the authors of three towering works of the 20th century -- To Kill a Mockingbird, Dune, and The Lord of the Rings -- explore central concepts in ethics through the situations and actions of their characters. This course includes a survey of key ideas and structures in ethical philosophy, close-reading analysis of these extraordinary novels, and consideration of text in relation to author, reader, and social context. 

    Note: This is a reading-intensive course. In order to successfully complete all three works, students will be expected to read at least 3-4 hours per day, and more on weekends.

     This course is divided into two parts- Part A and Part B. Each part runs for two weeks, and it will become a much more complete course if students take both parts.

    Key Lessons

    In this class, students will:

    • Explore key concepts in ethics

    • Read three of the very best novels in modern literature

    • Develop skills in close-reading and critical literary analysis

    • Unpack how novelists articulate conceptual arguments through narrative

        Weekly Schedule

        Part A (Session 1 or 3)

        • Week 1: Foundations: Key Concepts in the Study of Ethics
        • Week 2: Close Analysis & Discussion: To Kill a Mockingbird

        Part B (Session 2 or 4)

        • Week 3: Close Analysis & Discussion: Dune
        • Week 4: Close Analysis & Discussion: The Lord of the Rings

        Class Materials

        • Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
        • Frank Herbert, Dune
        • J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (Complete Trilogy)

        (Students can purchase from Apple books, Google play, or Kindle)


        Sean Smeland
        • Academic English Specialist & STEM advisor
        • Senior Teacher for Mathematics/English/Biology/History
        • M.A. in International Relations
, Columbia University
        • B.S. in Biology, 
Yale University

        Message From Sean

        Hello students! I am excited to work with you. Fair warning, though: if you take this class, you need to be an excellent reader who is ready and willing to do not just a lot of reading, but a lot of thinking. These are fun books, but they are also serious books, and our theme -- ethics -- is a serious topic. We often don’t realize it, but ethics is one of the most fundamental factors in our lives. Just about everyone makes a multitude of ethical decisions every day without even noticing it, but many people don’t spend very much time thinking deeply about ethics. In this class, we’re going to change that, and we’re going to do it in style, by reading three of the finest and most beloved novels of the past century. Each of these books does more than tell a story: each one also has important things to say, and questions to ask, about our values as individual people and as a society. After reading these novels, you won’t just be more educated, you will be a better person.

        Professional Experience

        A little bit about me, for the curious: I teach classes at the Academy at Harvard Square in history, social sciences, and STEM disciplines, plus occasional deep-dive classes on advanced humanities topics. Seems like a really diverse portfolio, doesn’t it? Well, here’s how it works: I graduated from Yale University with a bachelor’s degree in biology, then spent a couple years doing research before changing course and going to Columbia University and MIT for graduate school in international relations and political science. While at MIT, I became interested in the history of science and technology, and I’ve been focusing on history ever since! Along the way, I have also given university lectures at Tufts University, UMass Amherst, and UMass Boston. In addition to teaching, I coordinate research for Educational Divide Reform, and I serve as the primary STEM advisor for the Academy. I’m also currently working on a book about music and the Vietnam War. 

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