I teach 10th grade English at an interdistrict magnet school in New Haven, Connecticut. This is a required class for all students, and is intended to cover a wide breadth of topics, text genres, skills, and modes of writing before students may choose to further specialize their study of English in AP classes or dual enrollment courses during their junior year. The course is structured in theme-based quarters; each quarter targets a mode of writing (argumentative, persuasive, analytical) paired with a thematic unit of study. No texts are mandated, but texts are suggested to align with each theme. Though teachers have the flexibility to teach texts that they believe will best engage and push their students to a deeper understanding of the targeted standards, I became more and more aware of a lack of depth to the curriculum’s nature writing unit.
The district-endorsed unit, titled “Self and Nature: Exploring Human Relationships with Nature” recommends texts that are familiar to many English teachers as the canon of American transcendentalism, the 19th-century literary and philosophical movement advocating for the unity of nature, the divine, and humanity. Some suggestions outside of that realm are recommended (Rachel Carson, Jack London, Jon Krakauer), but even these more modern suggestions do very little to tell a more accurate and complete story of human’s place in the environment.