A number of years ago, I went to see Ira Glass at the Kimmel Center. The popular host of This American Life on National Public Radio started his show in darkness. Surrounded by the soft glow of radio dials and the blinking buttons of frequency modulation, Glass wanted to appear as if he was recording in the studio. He remained in darkness, creating an intimate sonic space for each audience member to encounter him where they knew him best - in their head.
The sonic resonance of a well-told story reverberates. Haverford men yearn to reverberate in the minds of their peers and in the world that surrounds them. They want to be a part of great stories, and my role as an English teacher is to help them tell their stories.
In the past six years, the Upper School English department has shifted away from the analytical essay as the most important means of gauging writing prowess. While close textual reading still remains an important skill, we place equal weight and time behind teaching creative writing and the personal essay. We found that students who could craft a wonderfully insightful reading of another writer’s work often struggled to find the words to describe their own journeys, their own passions, and their own fictions.
Haverford men yearn to reverberate in the minds of their peers and in the world that surrounds them. They want to be a part of great stories, and my role as an English teacher is to help them tell their stories.
In Honors English class, my VI Form students are tasked with writing different kinds of narrative. For example, my summer reading assignment asks students to craft an analytical essay on a single page of text and to create a Mad Men-style sales pitch for an imaginary product that would fit within the world of Orphan Master’s Son. Our class becomes a space for young writers to read and imitate a wide variety of textual modalities.
In this vein, the students wrote personal essays that were guided by a theme. After they wrote these pieces, they were paired with a partner who shared his theme. I wanted the students to transform a written essay into a work that was meant to be performed. With the help of the technology department, students were tasked with creating a podcast that moved their textual work into the sonic landscape. Welcome to This Haverford Life.
Podcasting has come of age as a storytelling tool. The work of S-Town, This American Life, and Radiolab have risen in popularity as people crave intimacy and storytelling to be delivered from their cell phones through their headphones.
I want to thank Grady Nance, Sam Turner, and Will Rhodes for their bravery in sharing their work with the larger Haverford world.
Dan Keefe is in his sixth year teaching English at The Haverford School. He has a B.A. from Wake Forest University and an M.A. from New York University. Watch Dan's Faces of Haverford video interview >