Linguistics dropped in favor of full-year WP

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Starting this semester, freshmen will no longer take the previously required spring term Linguistics course, which has instead been replaced by Writing Process II. Freshmen had always taken one semester of Writing Process and one of Linguistics as supplements to their regular English course. However, Linguistics, a part of Townsend Harris’ Humanities curriculum for over twenty years, is no longer being offered as a class.

“At this point in our school’s development, it is more fitting to have twice the Writing Process courses instead of Linguistics,” said Rafal Olechowski, Assistant Principal of Humanities.

“I taught Linguistics in the past, but there was no curriculum, it was more of a ‘do whatever you want’ kind of class,” he adds.

In efforts to educate freshmen about what they need to know to succeed in writing at THHS, the entire Writing Process curriculum was revamped before the start of the school year. One of the first changes made was placing a focus on writing analytical literary essays. Other foci of the curriculum are research-based writing, MLA citation format, and persuasive essays. Instead of longer pieces of literature, students read short stories and articles, with the focus on using those texts to develop writing skills, study rhetoric, and fine-tune their grammatical knowledge.

According to Mr. Olechowski, “the history of language will be at least one of the units incorporated into Writing Process II.”

The second semester will focus on more types of writing that students are expected to complete at THHS in the hope that, by the end of freshman year, all teachers can expect a certain set of skills from the class of 2017 without having to teach those skills in their own classes.

Students have also been required to maintain blogs.

Humanities teacher Brian Sweeney explains that this aspect was added “to show students that many professionals are expected to exhibit their writing online, and part of writing in the 21st century depends upon knowing how to responsibly, compellingly, and regularly share their writing with online audiences.”

Another major change appears to be  the removal of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, which constituted a large portion of the first Writing Process semester.

“It’s not definite that it won’t be moved to Writing Process II, but I fail to see the connection between the class and the book. It’s an odd book to introduce to freshmen since the main character thinks every adult in the world is a fake,” said Mr. Olechowski.

Mr. Sweeney, however, disagrees.

“I think [Catcher in the Rye] is the perfect book to teach to freshmen,” he said. “It taps into a lot of the experiences and questions that teenagers will face throughout their high school years. To me, the question of whether to teach it has nothing to do with appropriateness of theme. It’s a matter of relevancy to this new curriculum. I feel that it belongs in E1 or E2, where, if I’ve heard correctly, it used to be taught. Teaching a novel in WP as we would in a traditional English class might make it impossible to complete the new curriculum that’s been established.”

According to Humanities teacher Georgette Wallace, many years ago Catcher was taught in either E1 or E2 before it moved.

Humanities teacher Robert Babstock, however, enjoyed having The Catcher in the Rye within the Writing Process curriculum and thinks the novel was beneficial to students understanding the culture of post-war America.

“I remember discussing The Catcher in the Rye in our class and hearing testimony from articulate seniors and juniors that they really savored the experience of reading and interpreting and learning to read from this very great novel,” he said, “It lends itself to rich lessons about our literature and national experience and also points the way to Salinger’s short fiction which is just as meritorious as the novel.”

In regards to the new, largely unknown curriculum, Humanities teacher Robert Babstock hopes that there will soon be a departmental “sharing out” so that teachers of literature can enhance and reinforce the material.

Ms. Wallace recalls fond memories of teaching Linguistics.

“It breaks my heart that the Linguistics course is being dropped. Learning about the roots of our language and the beauty of it and the many regional dialects was exciting and enriching, especially for our immigrant students,” she said.

She added that “THHS will (or should) mourn the loss of this beloved subject.”

Veterans of Linguistics share their beliefs as they recall taking the course as freshmen, whose curriculum often varied with the teacher.

Junior Beata Warchol was disappointed to learn Linguistics had been cut. “[Linguistics] was fascinating because it taught me a lot about languages and manners of speaking, the actual physical manifestation of writing instead of the craft itself,” she said.

However, junior Gabrielle Cintron, who was disappointed in the class, said, “I didn’t like it because all you did was memorize answers for a quiz every week. I thought we would actually learn about the roots of a word and prefixes and suffixes in class and get examples of them, but we didn’t.”

Junior David Chen, who felt the class wasn’t very productive, stated that he didn’t really know the difference between Writing Process and Linguistics.

Freshmen naturally do not feel a change in the system.

Isaac So, who is currently taking Writing Process, said, “It’s a great class where I learn to improve my writing. It’s certainly challenging, and having it for the whole year will only benefit students.”

Junior Inderdeep Jaswal praises the change in curriculum, explaining that Writing Process added to THHS’s unique humanities curriculum.

“In addition,” he said, “we may have grown up learning English by ear, but learning its proper ways is significantly greater for all students, especially at a college or high school level.”