English Department Adds “Outsiders” Elective to Curriculum

Emily Fagell and Eva Youel Page '21

Seniors next year will have the option to enroll in a new elective, “Outsiders,” taught by English teacher Soon Wiley. The course examines the role of marginalized groups or individuals in contemporary literature. Although the class is centered around three novels and three papers per semester, one of the key characteristics of “Outsiders” is that it is “a hundred percent discussion,” according to Wiley.

This course further differs from other offerings at Sidwell because “the books that kids are going to be reading -- all of them except for Edith Wharton -- are going to be by living authors.” 

Another key component of the course material is that the majority of its authors are people of color, something that Wiley believed “would be important.” He also thinks that it will be “fun for kids to get a chance to read some other works which are outside of the canon” of the courses that students take in earlier grades.

Wiley was inspired to pick this theme because he believes “there are outsiders in every book… there are all sorts of characters that don’t fit. And whether that’s socioeconomically, or ethnically, or economically, there’s all sorts of different ways in which people can be kind of on the outside looking in. I was just interested in teaching a whole class in valuing that perspective and talking about it.”

Wiley describes the role of these outsiders in literature as lending “an interesting angle to things.” Furthermore, “They just call attention to things, and most people, I would say, are drawn to books [that] are about or are told from this perspective of kind of an outsider.” 

While Wiley hopes that “if students feel like they are outsiders in some way maybe they’ll be able to connect a little bit with the literature,” he does not believe there is one target group for this senior elective. 

Wiley said that a few selected texts will overlap with those from his contemporary literature class. “Outsiders” will feature novels such as Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Celeste King’s “Everything I Never Told You” – which Wiley describes as “a suspense thriller,” -- Edith Wharton’s “Age of Innocence” and Chang-Rae Lee’s “The Native Speaker.”

“Mainly I think I just want students to consider similar themes that we’ve been talking about in ninth, tenth, and eleventh [grades], but from, perhaps, a different angle,” Wiley said.

“Outsiders” offers a nuanced take on both contemporary literature and the themes discussed throughout high school and will be available to all rising seniors for the first time this fall.

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