Social Class in Literature


Photo by Emma Light.

Upper School English teacher Andrew Mercurio would describe his elective Social Class in Literature, or “Class on Class,” in three words: heart, head, and hands. He wants students to walk away with a better understanding of all three of those things. How to think with their head, feel with their heart and take action with their hands.

The idea for the class came to Mercurio when he was thinking of ideas for a unit in English 10.

“I wanted to pair songs with the new unit and I looked back and then realized these hundreds of songs all had to do with socioeconomical class,” said Mercurio. “I took a step further and looked at TV shows and movies and then realized I needed more than a unit, I needed a trimester.”

The class focuses on bringing attention to the socioeconomic class system that surrounds students. Students in the class watch and read literature that deals with socioeconomic status, for example the 1961 film adaptation of  “A Raisin in the Sun”.

“This class has been so different to other English classes,” junior Madison Nguyen. “We have really in-depth meaningful discussions about privileges we have at Greenhill that we don’t even realize.”

Like most other English classes, students write papers and analyze readings. However, halfway through the trimester, the class takes a trip to Austin Street Center, which provides emergency shelter for homeless people. At the center, students cook and serve meals.

“The trip to Austin Street Center is the main reason I took the class,” Nguyen said. “I think it will be an experience that will be really beneficial.”

Additionally, a major project in the class is the student teaching project. In small groups, students research how class affects a certain topic. In the past, students have researched how class affects the college application process and recruiting to collegiate level sports teams.

“For two weeks the class is basically theirs and the things that come out are fascinating,” said Mercurio. “When I do the teaching project it feels different more personal and significant”.

While dealing with the sensitive subject of how socioeconomic status plays into today’s society, the class allows students a space to talk about their different experiences and facilitate meaningful discussions.

“The discussions we have in class are eye opening and allow me to think about things from a different perspective,” junior Zoë Purdy said.