If you’re a ninth grader or a new tenth grader, you take a ten-week class with the Headmaster. As a senior you meet with him again—a complement to your first seminar. In addition to having the pleasure of teaching you twice, the Headmaster can assess the progress you’ve made in your Commonwealth career as you prepare for and apply to college.
"One of my aims in teaching this course is that you learn to distinguish between an opinion and an argument (and between a good argument and a bad one) and to see how words, with the social and political baggage they carry, shape human relationships.”—Headmaster Bill Wharton
In the first five weeks, we address matters of critical questioning, the relationship of thinking and emotion, and the ethics of argument. We read texts of William Golding (“Thinking as a Hobby”) and Plato (usually the Crito). And using A Workbook for Arguments, we wrestle with the principles of critical reasoning. In the second half of the course, you practice public speaking, a skill you will put to use making announcements, class presentations, and other speeches during and after your Commonwealth career. Each of you will compose and make an announcement for a serious event, or a silly one (“National Read in the Bathtub Day,” for example). Toward the end of the course, you will each deliver a longer speech to the class on a topic of your choice.
Students say..."It became obvious to me freshman year that close reading was ubiquitous in the commonwealth curriculum when the same skills were needed in English, language and ethics, my advanced French course, and history."
"In our discussions, by encouraging you to care about words and their use, about reasoning, and about the blind spots all of us share, my hope is that you will learn to listen better—because attentive listening is an ethical act—and to think better.” —Headmaster Bill Wharton
You’re ready to explore a range of difficult topics. Through such texts as Ellison’s Invisible Man and the Bhagavad Gita, we examine concepts of freedom and its relation to the individual and social forces that shape our identities. We also circle back to the kinds of questions first raised in Language and Ethics, reading Michael Sandel’s Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? and Kathryn Schulz’s Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error. We focus particularly on the tensions and discrepancies between realism (the difficult choices life forces upon us), our moral promptings, and our fallibility as humans.
Students say..."Close reading changed me fundamentally. I learned to pay attention to the different layers of meaning that can come out of even a single word or phrase. For me, this was the first time that there didn’t seem to be a difference between my ‘life’ and my ‘intellectual life.’”