Teacher: Get Shakespeare out of the classroom

posted at 5:21 pm on June 17, 2015 by Matt Vespa

My colleague Christine wrote earlier this week about how Shakespeare is being eviscerated by an emoji-based series of his works. No, seriously; “OMG Shakespeare” is a thing, with ‘YOLO Juliet” and “srsly Hamlet.” It’s horrifying–and the revered English bard’s works are not that hard to read. Now, there’s a second front to this madness. We should stop teaching him altogether because he’s a white dude, and the world has changed a lot since then. Dana Dusbiber, at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, California, argued this point, and why we shouldn’t have to “cling” to him (via WaPo) [emphasis mine]:

I do not believe that I am “cheating” my students because we do not read Shakespeare. I do not believe that a long-dead, British guy is the only writer who can teach my students about the human condition. I do not believe that not viewing “Romeo and Juliet” or any other modern adaptation of a Shakespeare play will make my students less able to go out into the world and understand language or human behavior. Mostly, I do not believe I should do something in the classroom just because it has “always been done that way.”

What I worry about is that as long as we continue to cling to ONE (white) MAN’S view of life as he lived it so long ago, we (perhaps unwittingly) promote the notion that other cultural perspectives are less important. In the 25 years that I have been a secondary teacher, I have heard countless times, from respected teachers (mostly white), that they will ALWAYS teach Shakespeare, because our students need Shakespeare and his teachings on the human condition.

So I ask, why not teach the oral tradition out of Africa, which includes an equally relevant commentary on human behavior? Why not teach translations of early writings or oral storytelling from Latin America or Southeast Asia other parts of the world? Many, many of our students come from these languages and traditions. Why do our students not deserve to study these “other” literatures with equal time and value? And if time is the issue in our classrooms, perhaps we no longer have the time to study the Western canon that so many of us know and hold dear.

Here then, is my argument: If we only teach students of color, as I have been fortunate to do my entire career, then it is far past the time for us to dispense with our Eurocentric presentation of the literary world. Conversely, if we only teach white students, it is our imperative duty to open them up to a world of diversity through literature that they may never encounter anywhere else in their lives. I admit that this proposal, that we leave Shakespeare out of the English curriculum entirely, will offend many.

Well, speaking as a person of color, I remember from my middle/high school days that I couldn’t have cared less that we didn’t read literature from my neck of the woods (Asia). I like Shakespeare, and I never took Shakespeare’s race and gender into account because, well, that’s irrelevant. Also, I liked the plays we read in class, though I’m fonder of his darker works; Macbeth is one of my favorites.

Yet, here’s the thing: Shakespeare one of the greatest writers (if not the greatest) writers of the English language. The fact that any English teacher would remove him from the syllabus because of some haphazard, white-guilt notion that analyzing his works in class will somehow make Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, or other students of color could get depressed, or feel bad about themselves sounds like a pretty awful reason. I think Dusbiber (perhaps unwittingly) is overthinking this issue. Yet, with liberals, everything is political. That fetish of landing on the right side of history has placed Shakespeare in the crosshairs–at least with this teacher.

Luckily, not every English teacher feels the same way. Here’s Matthew Truesdale, an English teacher at Wren High School in Piedmont, South Carolina, on why it’s “ridiculous” not to teach Shakespeare:

But my complaint Dusbiber’s post is this: She argues that her students shouldn’t have to read Shakespeare because other literature “better speaks to the needs of my very ethnically-diverse and wonderfully curious modern-day students.” She then goes on to write that it might be “appropriate to acknowledge him as a chronicler of life as he saw it 450 years ago and leave it at that.”

So what Shakespeare wrote 450 years ago is not applicable to her teaching today? Ethnically diverse students don’t foolishly fall in love and over-dramatize every facet of that experience? Or feel jealousy or rage? Or fall victim to discrimination? Or act desperately out of passion? To dismiss Shakespeare on the grounds that life 450 years ago has no relation to life today is to dismiss every religious text, every piece of ancient mythology (Greek, African, Native American, etc.), and for that matter, everything that wasn’t written in whatever time defined as “NOW.” And yes– Shakespeare was in fact a white male. But look at the characters of Othello and Emila (among others), and you’ll see a humane, progressive, and even diverse portrayal of the complexities of race and gender.

If Ms. Dusbiber doesn’t want to teach Shakespeare or doesn’t like Shakespeare or thinks Shakespeare is too hard for her students, then fine…let that be her reasoning. Any teacher, myself included, has made decisions to switch out texts based on any number of factors.

What she really seems to be saying is that no one should read anything that isn’t just like them, and if that’s her position as an English teacher, then she should maybe consider a different line of work.

Valerie Struass, who blogs about education for the Post, added that Dusbiber’s opinion is actually shared by many. I’ve heard about the controversies surrounding Catcher in the Rye, Judy Bloom’s young adult works, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and others, but Shakespeare? Granted, if they’re going to just read the emoji-based versions of his plays, then maybe there’s an argument for its removal, albeit still a weak one.

By the way, the new Macbeth adaptation starring Michael Fassbender looks pretty good.

 


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Translation: “I’m a product of the modern education system which means I’m a complete ignoramus who can read barely half the words in the typical Shakespeare sonnet and can comprehend even fewer, so by couching my refusal to teach Shakespeare in these noble and lofty terms I’m able to avoid revealing myself to my students as the illiterate jackass I truly am and can go on deceiving the school board into thinking I’m qualified to teach when it’s only painfully obvious that I’m anything but.”

FlameWarrior on June 17, 2015 at 6:02 PM

That’s how I read her rationale.

AesopFan on June 17, 2015 at 8:30 PM

If the right operated like the left operates, this teacher would be hounded on social media, and the school board hounded to remove her. She would be accused of anti-white racism and communist sympathies.

But we don’t operate that way, which is why the left has taken over our society.

what a piece of work is man

HugoDrax on June 17, 2015 at 6:11 PM

I am thankful we don’t do so now (there was a time in the past when this would have happened), and I hope it stays that way.
However, the parents in that school system are totally within their rights to question her fitness for her post.

AesopFan on June 17, 2015 at 8:32 PM

Shakespeare’s sonnets are the penultimate example of the form.

SONNET CXVI (116)

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration find
s,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

If this ‘teacher’ fails to recognize the value of teaching the writings of Shakespeare, she should be dismissed from her position.

thatsafactjack on June 17, 2015 at 6:14 PM

Shakespeare’s view here finds no resonance in our hook-up-with-whoever-lloks good-today whats-in-it-for-me culture, that equates shacking up with marriage, facilitates single-parent households, and celebrates dropping the “beloved” as soon as staying becomes inconvenient.

AesopFan on June 17, 2015 at 8:35 PM

Shakespeare’s Language

The most striking feature of Shakespeare is his command of language. It is all the more astounding when one not only considers Shakespeare’s sparse formal education but the curriculum of the day. …
Shakespeare’s English, in spite of the calamitous cries of high school students everywhere, is only one linguistic generation removed from that which we speak today. The following table illustrates the time periods and differences between Old, Middle, and Early Modern, and Modern English:

tanked59 on June 17, 2015 at 6:55 PM

Great link.
Shakespeare and Chaucer (and other sources)

Shakespeare undoubtedly admired Chaucer works immensely, for he uses several of Chaucer’s poems as sources of his plays. Troilus and Criseyde was the primary source of Troilus and Cressida, and the Parliment of Fowles was a source of Mercutio’s “Queen Mab” speech in Romeo and Juliet. It is apparent that The Knight’s Tale sparked Shakespeare to craft the The Two Noble Kinsmen, and there are several other minor examples one could cite.

AesopFan on June 17, 2015 at 8:41 PM

tyrants appeal to the retards and in the end the Constitution is dissolved.

Mr Soames on June 17, 2015 at 8:48 PM

How to deal with the Bard

I’m guessing that 500 years from now Snoop Dogg and Miley Cyrus will be considered the sages of post-Western civilization…

WestVirginiaRebel on June 17, 2015 at 9:06 PM

So…

…I read this a couple of times, to make sure that I was correct in my comprehension of this racist kunt’z point; which as far as I can tell, is not that we should *include* black or other “colored” authors, so much as it is she wants to get rid of white, European authors.

Or am I missing her point?

a5minmajor on June 17, 2015 at 9:36 PM

Read through all the comments, and I totally agree with those who comment that she wants to be rid of Shakespeare because either she can’t handle it herself or she is afraid of her students, probably both.

jazzuscounty on June 17, 2015 at 10:12 PM

There might be a point if Boccaccio’s “Decameron” were substituted — being that several of Shakespeare’s plotlines seem to have been ‘borrowed’ from that collection of 100 tales.

cthulhu on June 17, 2015 at 10:40 PM

So, I personally hated Shakespeare’s works, or at least the ones we had to read in class in high school and college.

Even so, the idea that we should remove Shakespeare for the reasons she gave is absurd. Including more authors from other cultures? Certainly! No problem with that. But the idea that it’s somehow “offensive” to teach one of the generally-acknowledged great men of literature, simply because of his gender and color, is far more offensive.

Asurea on June 17, 2015 at 11:21 PM

If we only teach students of color, as I have been fortunate to do my entire career, then it is far past the time for us to dispense with our Eurocentric presentation of the literary world. Conversely, if we only teach white students, it is our imperative duty to open them up to a world of diversity through literature that they may never encounter anywhere else in their lives.

White kids should have their horizons broadened by reading writers of other cultures. Ok., that actually sounds reasonable.

And “students of color” should NOT have their horizons broadened; but instead should have those horizons cut off as we teach them to shut their minds to anything outside their ethnicity…

Um, is that right?
That’s how teaching works?
Only white kids should broaden their minds and horizons?

Man I’m glad I’m white.
Otherwise I’d have had teachers trying NOT to teach me.

gekkobear on June 17, 2015 at 11:46 PM

OMG. Students of color don’t need Shakespeare because he isn’t of their culture. Whereas white kids don’t need Shakespeare because they need to be exposed to other cultures. Anybody see a contradiction? Also, I think that this idiot is living in the world of 1890 or something where kids actually do learn a lot of Shakespeare. I’m pretty sure that now Shakespeare would be a change of pace from an unending diet of Toni Morrison and Judy Blume.

Surellin on June 18, 2015 at 7:00 AM

She’s a racist. An actual one. A raw, in your face, shameless racist bigot.

She sees everything through the prism of race. Then she sees whatever is left through the prism of gender, since she is sexist, too.

It’s not complicated at all.

fadetogray on June 18, 2015 at 7:56 AM

What I worry about is that as long as we continue to cling to ONE (white) MAN’S view of life as he lived it so long ago…

It is a part of the narcissistic liberal “progressive” mindset that all of history began on the day they were born.

Trafalgar on June 18, 2015 at 8:24 AM

Literature is an art that transcends demographics. It’s not necessarily about “who” wrote it. It’s the content.

That’s why we call it, stay with me, L-i-t-e-r-a-t-u-r-e.

We designate Shakespeare “classic” literature because it is a valued, timeless construct. It addresses the human condition in a comprehensive, intelligent manner which is not unique to any demographic.

I’m growing a little tired of people who can’t digest anything intelligent without the opaque lens of demographics. That’s a narrow-minded perspective which does more to limit a person’s interests than expose them to the broader, more educationally enriching aspects of scholarship. It’s ultimately a prejudiced, limiting view that argues people should be taught using specific culture viewpoints, just because…

*BLINK*

That’s the exact opposite of what education is meant to do.

Marcus Traianus on June 18, 2015 at 8:55 AM

I really don’t care if students read Shakespeare or not. I think that the most important thing is to get our young people reading literature that they enjoy on a regular basis. Reading is the engine that drives improvement in literacy.

NuclearPhysicist on June 18, 2015 at 9:36 AM

We are so hammered with diversity requirements, you have no idea. It’s people like this who push for it, and lemme tell ya…it ain’t easy to do in a science classroom without making $#!+ up.

Bob's Kid on June 18, 2015 at 10:29 AM

Dana Downer Dusbiber probably thought Shakespeare was anti-Semitic, due to his portrayal of Shylock.

But if she’s so worried about sharing African culture with her students instead of European culture, she should stop to consider that about the time of Shakespeare’s later plays, British settlers founded Jamestown, the King James Bible was translated, and Galileo was arguing that the earth revolved around the sun. What cultural achievements had Africans made at that time?

Steve Z on June 18, 2015 at 10:47 AM

I might agree with some of the things this female said, if it wasn’t glaringly clear that this is really all about hating whitey.

blackgriffin on June 18, 2015 at 11:05 AM

Hip hop and rap artists and blacks in general like to play with words and the language. Look at the names they give to some of their kids. Or the rap handles they give themselves. Shakespeare was a master at playing with the English language. He even invented words we still use today. The English language was just coming into acceptance during Shakespeare’s time. English writers were exploding with creativity. Rap and hip hop stylists are carrying on the great tradition of the English language’s adaptability and fluidity. Why cut kids off from the source and root of their artistry?

mr. b on June 18, 2015 at 11:36 AM

Those who can’t do, teach. Those who can’t teach, make the curriculum about themselves.

de rigueur on June 18, 2015 at 11:46 AM

This “teacher” of LITERATURE is saying that we should teach the ORAL traditions out of Africa and no one pointed out to him/her how utterly STUPID she is, since it’s CONTRADICTORY to the course?

PJ Emeritus on June 18, 2015 at 12:09 PM

Teacher: Get Shakespeare out of the classroom

I agree – and whoever it was that dug him up and dragged him into the classroom should be the one to put him back……

dentarthurdent on June 18, 2015 at 12:18 PM

So instead of reading Romeo and Juliet, the kiddies will watch Warm Bodies, the ZOMROMCOM about R and Julie…..

dentarthurdent on June 18, 2015 at 12:24 PM

Let me see if I have this correct: To Ms. Dusbiber, the messenger is more important than the message.

And we can deny the validity of the message solely based on the messenger’s race or culture.

What an inconsistent dolt! Can we please reclaim her teaching credentials and give them to someone who can actually make use of them.

EdmundBurke247 on June 18, 2015 at 12:37 PM

It’s horrible the way this racist white teacher said she can’t teach her white kids with a black author as they couldn’t get it and should have to learn that society.

Oh, I got the skin colors backward in that?
Oh, then it’s ok.
It would only be racist if the races went a certain direction.
We all know that.

Our solution to racists focusing solely on race is to force everyone to focus solely on race? Of course it is. That’s genius.
If only this were a surprise it’s a plan to solve a problem from liberals.
Is there any problem they can’t make worse by trying to help?

gekkobear on June 18, 2015 at 6:24 PM

Those who can’t do, teach.

de rigueur on June 18, 2015 at 11:46 AM

So, folks learn how to weld, do plumbing/electrical, learn nursing, learn engineering or a military MOS from those who have never done those things?

Interesting.

Dr. ZhivBlago on June 18, 2015 at 8:15 PM

“Muddafukka ook ook eek shit ug ook booga ugh fuck ookey bookey ugh crap!”

^ What they want to replace Shakespeare with.

LawfulGood on June 19, 2015 at 5:31 PM

To those who would wreck the heritage of the English language most completely engaged through the King James Bible, and the works of Shakespeare, I say:

O conspiracy,
Sham’st thou to show thy dan’rous brow by night,
When evils are most free? O, then by day
Where wilt thou find a cavern dark enough
To mask thy monstrous visage? Seek none, conspiracy;
Hide it in smiles and affability:
For if thou path, thy native semblance on,
Not Erebus itself were dim enough
To hide thee from prevention.

Every ‘learner’ (that’s what they like to call students today, I know not why) should be given the chance to draw a fuller grasp of their language through the classics, for they are classics due as much to the word-craft as to the content of the text. Shakespeare’s works lives on because they have so very much to impart; wit, folly, rage, humiliation, desire, deceit, triumph, insult, passion, downfall, betrayal, brotherhood. And delivered in full measure, in full pentameter, in so few words.

Lady MacBeth, sleepwalking, torn of conscience, haunted that she cannot wash her hands clean of the blood of “the old man”.

Duke Orsino’s melancholic substitution of gluttony for unrequited romance.

Prospero’s apology for disturbing the entertainment he has prepared, and noting it’s transient nature. (One of the most meta bits of monologue in history.)

And these without considering any of those most notably and quotably famous passages of the Bard’s contrivance. Woe to any who would deny the enrichment of self for a political purpose. If somebody doesn’t like Shakespeare’s work because of his incessant iambs, or his rye and insulting messages, so be it. To dislike his work because of it’s antiquity, or his ancestry, is to be wilfully stupid.

Freelancer on June 20, 2015 at 11:17 AM

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