Perspectives in Literature Sparks Changes to the English Department


Caroline P.

The books that Perspectives in Literature is reading this year.

The Perspectives in Literature class reached new records this year with a whopping 16 students enrolled. In 2018-2019 only eight students were enrolled, and the year before consisted of only four students. What has contributed to this dramatic increase in interest? 

Perspectives in Literature is an interdisciplinary English class students take in addition to their regular English class. One English teacher is the main teacher of the course with help from teachers within other disciplines. The course changes each year with a new theme, new teachers, and a whole different curriculum. This year the course is themed “Disruption” and is taught by Dr. Jessica Bremmer, with help from Brandon Kruhm, Director of Theatre; Katie Sivers, photography teacher; Sandy de Grijs, history faculty member; and a few other quest teachers. The class culminates in an annual Literature and Culture Conference with presentations from the whole school, a guest speaker, and projects from each of the students enrolled in Perspectives. 

Caroline P.
Theatre artist Julie Rada works with current Perspectives students as a guest lecturer.

Every year the English Department has discussions about who is interested in teaching the class and on what subject. The main teacher rotates every year. They then announce their idea for the class at a faculty meeting and rope in other teachers who are interested in participating. 

“To be able to build something from the ground up is really exciting,” described Molly Yurchak, who last year taught a Perspectives class on the voices of Black women in America. The class read texts from Harriet Jacobs, Toni Morrison, Chimamanda Nygozi Adiche, and Zora Neale Hurston among many others. The themes for the class are far-ranging, having previously been “Monsters” and “Weapons.” 

If you speak with students who have taken the class before, there are never any complaints. Jamie G. ’20 is currently enrolled in her second year of the class. “Walking into Perspectives was always such a relief. What we learned actually felt applicable, and the class was reflective of the world around us,” she said of last year’s class. 

Annie L., who graduated in 2019 and is now attending Pitzer College, described, “It was a really innovative class and so many of the ideas, books, musical artists have come up in my other classes. I’ve never been in a class where everyone was as engaged and eager to learn. Everyone was also respectful and okay with making mistakes and learning from them.” 

This is not a singular experience. Sophie G., a graduate of Westridge and now a sophomore at Centre College, still uses what she learned in her year of Perspectives. “The material we covered in Perspectives is the material that manages to continue to be the most relevant in my studies today.” 

Students attribute the strength and impact of the Perspectives class to its interdisciplinary format. “I was challenged to think and assess scientific papers and works of art and find collisions of importance and influence. I felt challenged and present in my Perspectives class. For the first time, my teachers were just as curious as I was and just as human and hungry for connections and breakthroughs,” continued Sophie. 

The interdisciplinary format is not just helpful for the students, but just as impactful for the teachers. “For me, the opportunity to work with other teachers, the way that this allows us to, has been amazing […] there are moments where I am just sitting and listening to my colleagues teach the class, and I just get to be a student along with my students,” described Bremmer. 

[The class] is challenging and compelling and still works on all the skills that you were working on in all of your English classes because it is an English class, so it makes sense that you should be able to take it as your only English class.

— Tarra Stevenson

The push for more classes like Perspectives, or just more English options, is not a new one, but has been in progress for many years with its fair share of obstacles. The original seed that planted the class was in 2013, when Westridge held its first-ever Literature and Culture conference. “Out of that we realized that there was a need and a place for this interdisciplinary work to happen in our curriculum,” described Bremmer, who began the official class as an H block elective in 2015 with Tarra Stevenson, Upper School English teacher. The first Perspectives class was themed “Memoir and Documentary.” As the class started to gain traction, the teachers were able to push for it to be added as a core course on top of the already existing curriculum. 

Most of the restraints come in the form of time. “One of the challenges has been the structures we have in place in terms of scheduling and having to schedule multiple teachers. There’s a lot of philosophical and theoretical support of that from the school, but I know we would all like to have all of the Perspectives teachers in the room all of the time,” said Bremmer. On the other hand, Molly Yurchak felt that one of the larger obstacles was funding, which has been increasing as the class has grown. “In terms of funding for the class, it started off with a very limited budget that really wasn’t equitable or […] fair for the teachers involved. We are moving in a direction where it is much better and we can do more, but it’s still not where it could be to really support the most robust experience,” described Yurchak. 

Starting next year, Perspectives will be an option for students to take as their only English course. The current courses required for all Westridge students go in order from 9th grade through 12th grade as English I, English II, Honors English III,  and AP English IV. This is in contrast to the sciences, who provide numerous class options for juniors and seniors. In the past, Westridge has required students to take just one English class a year, the same as all their peers, with the option to take Perspectives as an additional English course. 

This change was carefully thought out by the English Department. “[The class] is challenging and compelling and still works on all the skills that you were working on in all of your English classes because it is an English class, so it makes sense that you should be able to take it as your only English class,” described Stevenson. 

The change in this policy has been met with conflicting feelings. Junior Phoebe J. is excited about the change because of the time restraints in taking two English courses, “I would love to have Perspectives as an option for my main English class. I’ve always been really passionate about great literature and the discussion and analysis that comes with it, and have heard time and time again that taking Perspectives has been transformative for people. However, […] because of my already packed schedule, I’ve never been able to seriously consider taking Perspectives, despite my definite interest in doing so. I just can’t handle having double the reading each night.” 

For those who have already taken the class, there are a few concerns with the new change. “I am excited that there will be an option other than AP English, but one of the things I appreciate about Perspectives this year is that we all chose to take it because we want more English class, not because of a GPA boost or a requirement. I worry that as the alternative for AP English, it will attract people who don’t love the subject,” wrote current Perspectives student Sosi D. ’21. 

Jane A., a current freshman at Sarah Lawrence College, enjoyed Perspectives because it was an extra English course on top of the other. “We all were there because we chose to be. We all cared deeply and respected the material we were learning, which in my opinion is when learning works the best. Plus, we all had tremendous admiration and respect for each other for also being there.” 

Ms. Stevenson, who has taught the class twice, also recognizes how engaged the students are when they choose to take another English class, “My favorite part about teaching Perspectives is that it’s opt-in, that the students are taking it because they want to take it. That is super exciting, really rewarding, and just so fun,” said Stevenson. 

Senior Nicki K.,  agrees with Sosi. “I think [the policy change is] a great idea as long as there is some sort of application process. Students need to understand it’s not ‘easier’ than the AP class, just a different way of approaching English.” 

Sophie felt as though the class changed her life, partly because it was added on to her regular schedule, and is apprehensive about the change.  “One of the most valuable aspects of taking Perspectives was being able to bring what I was learning in Perspectives into my other classes and especially AP English. I think that the people in Perspectives should be bringing their knowledge into their other classes,” she said. 

Gracie B.’20, who participated in the class last year, doesn’t have clear opinions about the change in policy but is just thankful that the class is staying a part of the Westridge curriculum. “I think about Perspectives every day. No class has ever had such an impact on me. From the texts we read to the difficult and meaningful discussions we were able to have, the way I look at the world and the systems at play has transformed,” said Gracie. 

As for the future of the English Department as a whole, they are constantly searching for ways to expand and provide more opportunities for students to choose what they want to learn. “[The English department has] talked about topics in literature courses and giving students more choice. Ultimately, what we are seeing with Perspectives is that when students are opting in to studying something that is of interest to them, then it’s a richer experience for them. […] Giving students more agency in terms of what their path in English is [at Westridge] is certainly a goal for our department and something we’ve been talking about for a long time,” described Bremmer.