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Old 04-28-2006, 03:35 PM   #1 (permalink)
 
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Ditching Shakespeare: why?

Since when did getting an education have to be "easy?"

An article from the Seattle Times today (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/htm...glists26n.html, quoted below) discusses how many high school students simply can't "get" the classics anymore... they prefer to read contemporary novels that are easier to digest and relate to, that aren't written by long-dead white males whom they have no "connection to."

The argument seems to be against requiring students to read something that is unpleasant or unfamiliar to them, or is hard to understand because of its old-fashioned writing style and hard vocabulary. Some argue that it's actually oppressive to teach the classics, since they are in fact written by mostly white males.

Now, I don't think that reading Shakespeare is necessary for "realizing yourself" or becoming a responsible citizen, as they quote later in the article. People don't always *need* to read certain books in order to become a responsible person. And anthropologically, it's inane to expect something like Hamlet to appeal to or be understood universally. Additionally, I do think that there *is* too much dead white male literature out there, but that the alternatives are sometimes "too easy" to read. (Jon Krakauer? Come on, good for summer reading but not for teaching critical skills. Toni Morrison? Kick-ass, she takes a lot of work to read.)

Apart from the politics, though, what about the sheer power of reading challenging literature that is abstract and hard to relate to? As a former English teacher who fell in love with literature in the 11th grade while reading The Great Gatsby, I am puzzled about why kids have so little willingness to dig into these books and give them a try. Is it because of the instant information on the internet? The fascination with visual images rather than the written word? Do parents not read to their children anymore? What's behind this??

Yes, Grapes of Wrath is HARD. But it's worth the effort of reading it. It's not easy reading, it may not always be politically correct... but it takes work, and yeah, it does suck sometimes. But learning to read and think critically, to be able to express oneself clearly and effectively, to not have everything spoon-fed to you in one-bite chunks that go down easily... that's an education. I teach college students as well, and their critical reading and writing skills are reprehensible (often at or below high-school standards, certainly not college level)... I credit that to the dumbing-down at the high school level.

But maybe I'm just a bitter old fogey. Thoughts?

Quote:
Largely in response to their more ethnically diverse student bodies, high schools in the area are broadening their literature selections to include more contemporary writers, more women and more minorities.

Students say the books engage them more immediately than the classics yet still raise timeless questions about existence and meaning.

Teachers say the contemporary books appeal more to students who don't like to read and need an introduction to the power and pleasures of literature.

The classics haven't been discarded, though. Despite their drubbing the past decade for being elitist, inaccessible and written almost exclusively by dead white males, the traditional literary canon — Homer, Virgil, Dante and Shakespeare, to name a few regulars — still makes up the bulk of high-school reading. -snip-

Mariner students sometimes rebel against the books teachers think they should read. Rossana said students shove back at her "The Grapes of Wrath," a weighty John Steinbeck classic, and say, "Just give me an F."

"It's too much dry, dusty detail," she said, but added that the same students "devour" Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men."

In the past, advocates for teaching the great works of Western civilization insisted the classics were essential to develop citizens in a democracy. Nesting remembers hearing in college the argument that you must read "Hamlet" to be a completely realized person.

"You know, you don't," she said. "There's no one book you need to read to become a human being."
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Last edited by abaya; 04-28-2006 at 03:41 PM..
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Old 04-28-2006, 03:56 PM   #2 (permalink)
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I hated Shakespeare with a passion because I couldn't understand a damn thing I read, and would often have to reread a sentence 5 or 6 times to get the meaning, and I was in honors and college level English in high school. Having to have the teacher dissect every sentence sucked...there were students who understood it better than I did, but I know there were plenty who didn't. However, I liked the actual stories once I understood them. As far as other "dead white guy classics", I read plenty I loved and plenty I didn't. English in school isn't about reading what is popular...reading classics provide valuable insights about things that one might not think of otherwise. Personally, I think it celebrates the growth of humanity as well...reading great works as far back as Beowulf, and not forgetting our past as humans...regardless of who wrote them, While women (and especially minorities) aren't represented as well as white men, I read books by women as well...some that I loved, and some that I didn't. More than once I remember finishing a book in school and thinking...wow. That book was awesome, and it changed my way of thinking in some way. I never read The Grapes of Wrath, but I adored Of Mice and Men. It's pretty sad to know that a lot of today's students may never read books I dearly loved, but were difficult to read...Crime and Punishment, A Tale of Two Cities, Wuthering Heights. I guess I kind of feel the same as you, abaya.
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Old 04-28-2006, 04:13 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Mariner students sometimes rebel against the books teachers think they should read. Rossana said students shove back at her "The Grapes of Wrath," a weighty John Steinbeck classic, and say, "Just give me an F."
OK - I am an old fogey - I could just imagine what my high school would have done if I mouthed off like that... Let alone what my parents would have done to me...

I really gotta wonder how these people will be in the real world, when their boss gives them a project - will they turn it down saying it's too hard?

It's a book, it has a set number of pages, you read it-- what's the problem...

There are some "classics" that I wanted to poke my eyes out they were so dull, and to this day, I still don't quite understand symbolism, but I don't regret reading any of those books... am I a better person because I read them? no... but reading them gives a sense of accomplishment...
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Old 04-28-2006, 04:14 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Like Medusa, I too hated Shakespeare. I have only read two of the books, Romeo and Juliet in High School, and Merchant of Venice in College. I think the sappy love story doomed me in high school. That is not real appealing to high school boys, and yes I hated the style that it was written in to. In high school though I had to read Color Purple, and that is not a easy thing to read, a lot of the story is written in “black folk” language. I enjoyed reading that so I don’t think the “not challenging enough” wasn’t the problem.

I know a lot of kids hate reading, it sucks that they have to shy away from the classics. Getting the students to read period and opening up their eyes I think is more important. My daughter likes to read the Harry Potter books. I’m not going to take that away from her and give her some book that she thinks is boring, cause it will do nothing more than collect dust.
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Old 04-28-2006, 04:17 PM   #5 (permalink)
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It's a shame. And almost insulting. It's like saying, "you minorities are too dumb to understand Shakespeare so we're ditching it."

I suppose this could be one more example of the ongoing "wussification of America". What's wrong with hard? What's wrong with challenges? The basketball net is too high, should they lower it cause it's too hard? There's too many note in classical music, does that mean we should stop exposing our kids to it?

One of my favorite books is "Diary of Anne Frank". I'm not a pubescent Jewish girl but I could still appreciate it. Do I have to be black to appreciate "Root"? I'm not an Asian woman either but they made us read that in high school. Ok, no problem, I can dig it.

It just gets harder and harder to be a teacher.... I feel luck that I don't have to be in K-12 now. SOunds like a nightmare.
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Old 04-28-2006, 04:49 PM   #6 (permalink)
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I didn't have a big college edumacation, but I've been able to slog my way through some of the classics on my on.
(Most recently Mark Twain's 'A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court')
I had a very good librarian in elementary school that inspired in me a love of books.

Some people just don't like reading, though.

If it takes more contemporary literature to get youngsters reading, more power to the schools.

Just hope it's not at the expense of the good stuff.

(I hope this is ok to put here.)
I read online from these sites as much as I can,
http://www.bibliomania.com/0/-/frameset.html (a lot of classics here)
http://pd.sparknotes.com/ (also has full eBooks)
and http://www.gutenberg.org/ (Project Gutenberg)
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Old 04-28-2006, 04:59 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Oh man, I loved Shakespeare. I get where they say that the classics aren't always relevant, but you know, gotta know your roots. Dickens, Shakespeare, Hawthorne, etc. Some of it can be hard reading and a litte frustrating, but it's important for several reasons. Build your vocabularly, understanding the progression of the English language throughout the years, and sometimes it's a great way to give you an understanding of what was going on in that time period (i.e. Dickens or Shakespeare (sorta) )
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Old 04-28-2006, 05:23 PM   #8 (permalink)
 
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It gives me joy to know that I am not the only "bitter old fogey" around here... thanks guys, you give me hope. Let me clarify that yes, Harry Potter and other contemporary literature gets kids reading (hell, *I* love the whole series, in my 20s!), and yes, it's important to find some literature that is relevant to kids' lives. But one cannot learn to think on Harry Potter alone. That would be like eating dessert for every meal and expecting it to be enough for your body.

I guess I am troubled that more and more people (especially adolescents) seem to grow away from an appreciation of reading. I feel sad that we have to applaud high schools for doing whatever they can to get kids to read... noble as it sounds, often it means dumbing down books to a reading level far below their grade. Really, by that age, most kids are capable of reading so much more difficult material, but fewer teachers and parents feel like forcing them to read it these days. But what can one do?

I know I felt like I was hitting a brick wall when I taught English... nothing stuck unless I used brightly flashing lights and did a song and dance/multimedia to persuade them. I hated stooping to those levels... I felt I was demeaning them, and yet that's what they are used to now.
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Old 04-28-2006, 05:37 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Every high school I know of is still teaching Shakespeare.

Two years ago I had the opportunity to assist one of the teachers at my dad's high school in teaching her unit on Romeo and Juliet. For most of these kids, this was their first exposure to Shakespeare, and they were EXCITED. It was contagious. I think, especially in the case of Shakespeare, it's all in how you present it to kids. In this particular case, it meant more interactive work, showing the video after they watched it (so they could check their comprehension), and lots of discussion.

Despite the "dumbing-down" of American society, there are a LOT of cultural references to Shakespeare. If kids don't get a handle on the classics, they'll miss a lot in current culture--even popular culture. From Homer to Dickens, they're all favorites of mine, and they're all worth learning about. I think all these kids need is a teacher who is excited about the book they're teaching.

Oh, and Grapes of Wrath is one of the worst novels by Steinbeck, in my opinion. Poorly written, lacks focus, etc--especially in comparison to Of Mice and Men, which is clearly focused and tightly written.
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Old 04-28-2006, 05:40 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Man I love of Mice and Men. I just laaaugh and laaaugh and laaaugh when I finish it.

/Saying that to people is so offensive. Especially if some one asks you if you've seen a movie like Schindler's List.

But really, OM&M was a pretty good novel. I thought it was a pretty interesting social criticism.

If we're gonna talk novels in the last 100-150 years, though, The Great Gatsby wins all in those classic novels.
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Old 04-28-2006, 05:52 PM   #11 (permalink)
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by onesnowyowl
Every high school I know of is still teaching Shakespeare.
Owl, you're probably right... I guess my point is that in mostly urban schools (Seattle Public, for example), there seems to be a growing shift away from a classics-heavy focus to contemporary novels that are "cool" to read. I always thought Shakespeare was cool, myself, but so many struggle with the language and stop right there.

What kind of school were you teaching in? I do think urban/suburban/rural kids have different reactions (because of both too little and too much comfort at home) to this kind of stuff... but maybe I am wrong?
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Old 04-28-2006, 06:53 PM   #12 (permalink)
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I have to side that I absolutely hated Shakespear for half of High School. However during my Junior year everything just started to click and it made much more sense... I cant explain it to others.

That being said, it's not his message that is difficult (Much Ado About Nothing is nothing more than a funny soap opera), but it is the language.

Say what you want about the stupid young kids, but we speak a completely different language than Shakespear did. There are MANY genious authors out there who write about things relevent to today which we could easily switch to. Just make them with complex and thoughtful stories, To Kill a Mokingbird for example. It takes an intelligent being to get the deeper meaning of stories. The important part of high school is teaching people how to think and analize.

Quote:
Mariner students sometimes rebel against the books teachers think they should read. Rossana said students shove back at her "The Grapes of Wrath," a weighty John Steinbeck classic, and say, "Just give me an F."
If I were a teacher I'd just say "ok" and tell them to leave. Then smile when they return later asking for help.
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Old 04-28-2006, 07:23 PM   #13 (permalink)
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I understand Shakespeare, I liked some of his work, but I still haven't gotten a response to my question of what makes it relevant in modern education other than "It's a classic, duh." I'd really like to hear someone give me a concrete reason, because the fact that something is a classic, even if it's enjoyable to work with, does not mean it's necessary for a complete education.
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Old 04-28-2006, 07:33 PM   #14 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by MrSelfDestruct
I understand Shakespeare, I liked some of his work, but I still haven't gotten a response to my question of what makes it relevant in modern education other than "It's a classic, duh." I'd really like to hear someone give me a concrete reason, because the fact that something is a classic, even if it's enjoyable to work with, does not mean it's necessary for a complete education.
Because, to this day, our culture is full of references to Shakespeare (take 10 Things I Hate About You for an example) and other classics. The Simpsons regularly makes references to great works of literature. Reading Shakespeare and other classics (Homer's Odyssey, Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, etc) teaches kids where "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" comes from, and gives them a greater understanding of who we are, where we come from, and why certain things today are still said and still pop up in our cultural framework.
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Old 04-28-2006, 08:05 PM   #15 (permalink)
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Of course most literature is by dead whites. The male factor is a more complex entirely. But on the first points.

a) we only live a short while, ideas last longer - so of course you have to read
stuff by those who have died

b) The language English came from England. For **** suke - what colour would
you expect these people to be

On the latter point.. there's a lot of stuff written by non-whites (and "less whites). Sure it's in Sanskrit, classical Chinese, classical Greek. If a student is willing to learn these languages to read a respected text, that would be ok with me.

In fact - the school system should probably include some translations anyway from these sources. Plus some works by women.

(But you can't study the structure of a text properly - unless you know that language)
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Old 04-28-2006, 08:31 PM   #16 (permalink)
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While I figure it's an acceptable loss, as it is by no means critical, it is an unfortunate sign of the times. It's yet another dropped notch, the degeneration that comes from these 'lowest common denominator' shenanigans which plague the media. I see this less as a way of improving education and more as a counter-productive concession to the growing inadequacies of the youth.
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Old 04-28-2006, 08:56 PM   #17 (permalink)
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Shakespeare was assigned reading when I was in HS. But the thing that I really enjoyed about it was that my teacher, Ms. Zimmerman didn't just expect us to read it, she read much of it to us in class. She taught us what Shakespeare was trying to relate, she challenged us to explore Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet on our own. Additionally she exposed us to Dickens' Great Expectations and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mokingbird. And trust me, as a freshman in highschool, it took someone who could teach to make me pick up any of those books. And I have copies of all those books on my bookshelf now.

But I have no problem if schools these days want to teach more contemporary works. I only hope that the teachers will want to teach something from it other than a few new vocabulary words.
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Old 04-28-2006, 09:16 PM   #18 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MrSelfDestruct
I understand Shakespeare, I liked some of his work, but I still haven't gotten a response to my question of what makes it relevant in modern education other than "It's a classic, duh." I'd really like to hear someone give me a concrete reason, because the fact that something is a classic, even if it's enjoyable to work with, does not mean it's necessary for a complete education.
I can only speak for myself, but the writings of Shakespeare (written for the "masses") speaks to our inability to communicate in the "King's English." Teens mock their reading lists, particularly Shakespeare, because they are stubborn about stepping into a language that requires a great deal of attention.

I would suggest the writings of our founding fathers if they wish something a bit more current. Heh, escaping entertainment for deep philosophical issues. Serves 'em right.
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Old 04-28-2006, 09:21 PM   #19 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Psycho Dad
Shakespeare was assigned reading when I was in HS. But the thing that I really enjoyed about it was that my teacher, Ms. Zimmerman didn't just expect us to read it, she read much of it to us in class. She taught us what Shakespeare was trying to relate, she challenged us to explore Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet on our own. Additionally she exposed us to Dickens' Great Expectations and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mokingbird. And trust me, as a freshman in highschool, it took someone who could teach to make me pick up any of those books. And I have copies of all those books on my bookshelf now.

But I have no problem if schools these days want to teach more contemporary works. I only hope that the teachers will want to teach something from it other than a few new vocabulary words.
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Old 04-28-2006, 10:06 PM   #20 (permalink)
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I can only speak for myself, but the writings of Shakespeare (written for the "masses") speaks to our inability to communicate in the "King's English." Teens mock their reading lists, particularly Shakespeare, because they are stubborn about stepping into a language that requires a great deal of attention.
It's not a language that requires a great deal of attention, it's a language that takes a great deal of attention to us. Shakespear wrote his plays for the uneducated and illiterate masses, to claim students dont understand him because they are stupid does not hold up. It's a different language than what we speak today, that's it.
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Old 04-28-2006, 10:08 PM   #21 (permalink)
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I am far too biased in my opinion in that I prefer the Classics to modern literature. Those are the ones I first read, by choice. Yes, I did have excellent teachers that opened up the language to me and explore the vastness that is literature pre-1900. I was fortunate, and I do believe this is as important as a good teacher, to have excellent and accessible translations. The stories are not that difficult to understand and, in some cases, still can be related to on a human level of struggle against the times.
The Greek plays are still powerful, Chaucer is still as bawdy and Shakespeare's phrasings continue to captivate me 25 years later.

The English language has a progression that I believe is important to impart to students. Also, I was taught a heavy portion of History to help further explain the hows and whys of the literature.

If taught well, any subject can give a child a spark. I pray for more inspired and dedicated individuals to communicate a love of reading and what came before as it can only serve them to make them better people.
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Old 04-29-2006, 01:35 AM   #22 (permalink)
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Kids need to be slapped around and told to learn something for once. Learning new things is all about having to retool your thought processes to accomodate a new style of learning and a new set of data you're not used to having to deal with. Yeah, lots of stuff is hard to learn. Deal with it, and TRY to learn, or go ahead and be a janitor for the rest of your life. I enjoy a litter-free floor as much as the next person.

Also, re: white male authors of the past...

It's history. We can't change that all the old literature is written by white males. It's still historical, it's still perfectly valid, and it's nonsense to suggest that it's somehow oppressive to people of this day. Also keep in mind that most writers, historically speaking, lived a very meager existence- many of the most famous of which dying penniless, despite their genius... so we're not talking about some rich, white, slave-owning bastard male... more often than not, they were people who simply had a flair for writing and got very little compensation for their gift.
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Old 04-29-2006, 04:26 AM   #23 (permalink)
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Shakespeare teaches what's fundamental and universal about humanity.

Think about it: there's almost no English-based text that's less immediately comprehensible (okay, Chaucer might be worse, but that's almost not English anymore, as we think of it). The language is difficult in both its verbal and figurative qualities. But the emotions and experiences it expresses are still totally relevant to us (including to young people) today. Why do you think Romeo and Juliet gets such wide reading in High Schools? Because love-tormented teenagers have been the same since the dawn of time!

Reading Shakespeare grounds you in what's fundamental about humanity. You see that you're not alone, or even particularly unique. It's a deeply resonant and reassuring experience.
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Old 04-29-2006, 04:33 AM   #24 (permalink)
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The key to understanding the classics, especially the idiosyncratic language of Shakespeare, is having a good teacher.

I've had teachers that couldn't teach their way out of a wet paper bag. They made novel studies dry and boring (how does one make Aurthur Miller's The Crucible, boring?).

Reading Shakespeare, Austin, Dickens, etc. can be a very interesting (if not exciting) exploration of language, history, story-telling, etc. It is all in how it is presented.

Regardless, it does take work on the student's part. In some cases, a lot of work. But isn't that the whole point of school? To do some work. School like life should not be easy. It should challenge.
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Old 04-29-2006, 06:09 AM   #25 (permalink)
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One phrase was going through my head as I read through this thread: permanent underclass.

The fact is that good quality high schools, even public ones, are still teaching the proper literary classics. Many others, including those with high minority enrollment, are receiving a substandard English education. Can you imagine denying minority high school students the opportunity to read great literature because it was all written by white people? Bitter irony there.

When I was in high school, the process of countering for white-male-ness had already begun. In the same class I read "Pride and Prejudice" and "Hamlet", I was also forced to suffer through "Things Fall Apart", a vastly inferior novel. Facts are facts: the greatest authors of all time (at the very least until 50 years ago) were all white men. Teachers can feel free to deny this obvious point, but the consequence is that the quality of literature in schools gets worse and worse.

And as I said before, this is precisely the sort of trend that leads to increased class stratification. People who cannot read complex texts do not become lawyers or professors or historians or...
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Old 04-29-2006, 06:22 AM   #26 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Psycho Dad
Shakespeare was assigned reading when I was in HS. But the thing that I really enjoyed about it was that my teacher, Ms. Zimmerman didn't just expect us to read it, she read much of it to us in class. She taught us what Shakespeare was trying to relate, she challenged us to explore Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet on our own. Additionally she exposed us to Dickens' Great Expectations and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mokingbird. And trust me, as a freshman in highschool, it took someone who could teach to make me pick up any of those books. And I have copies of all those books on my bookshelf now.

But I have no problem if schools these days want to teach more contemporary works. I only hope that the teachers will want to teach something from it other than a few new vocabulary words.
I do think that this is the crux of the matter. You really can't shove a 300-yr-old or even a 50-yr-old text at a teen and say "Read that. It's good for you."

With a good teacher though, all things are possible. They have to help the student understand, interpret, and evaluate the context. That's when the light switch is flipped on.
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Old 04-29-2006, 09:12 AM   #27 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by politicophile
When I was in high school, the process of countering for white-male-ness had already begun. In the same class I read "Pride and Prejudice" and "Hamlet", I was also forced to suffer through "Things Fall Apart", a vastly inferior novel. Facts are facts: the greatest authors of all time (at the very least until 50 years ago) were all white men. Teachers can feel free to deny this obvious point, but the consequence is that the quality of literature in schools gets worse and worse.
You're comparing apples and oranges. Chinua Achebe's novel, "Things Fall Apart" is brilliant for what it is. Attempting to compare it to "Pride and Prejudice" and "Hamlet" is doing "Things Fall Apart" a great disservice, as all of those works are the product of their time and place. "Things Fall Apart" is a good commentary on the consequences of colonialism. Consider that it was published in 1958. As a student and teacher of English, I would never attempt to compare those three works of literature--I would not compare "Pride and Prejuice" and "Hamlet" to each other either.

The fact is, there have been some positive changes in the canon recently, but we can't expect to revise the canon overnight and not have some problems. We're still discovering works that are worthwhile by women and people of color. While some of them aren't brilliant works of literature ala Shakespeare, something like Mary Rowlandson gives us a further understanding of what it was like to be there then, and to be a woman in the time she lived. The same applies to works by people of color: reading Frederick Douglass' biography lets us see the world from his eyes. To me, that's what I love about literature: the ability to step into someone else's shoes. And I like to step into shoes that don't always belong to white males.
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Old 04-29-2006, 09:28 AM   #28 (permalink)
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You're comparing apples and oranges. Chinua Achebe's novel, "Things Fall Apart" is brilliant for what it is. Attempting to compare it to "Pride and Prejudice" and "Hamlet" is doing "Things Fall Apart" a great disservice, as all of those works are the product of their time and place. "Things Fall Apart" is a good commentary on the consequences of colonialism. Consider that it was published in 1958.
That is precisely the sort of relativism I am rejecting. There are no novels that are immune to (or simply should not undergo) comparisons to the classics. It is, of course, obvious that the circumstances surrounding "Things Fall Apart" are different than those of Shakespeare, eg. But that consideration is not relevant to determining its value as literature. While it is admittedly difficult to state precisely what makes for a great novel, the circumstances surrounding the writing and publication of a particular book are not relevent considerations: African literature should not be accepted into the canon through what essentially amounts of affirmative action - books and books and some are better than others.

Quote:
Originally Posted by onesnowyowl
We're still discovering works that are worthwhile by women and people of color. While some of them aren't brilliant works of literature ala Shakespeare, something like Mary Rowlandson gives us a further understanding of what it was like to be there then, and to be a woman in the time she lived. The same applies to works by people of color: reading Frederick Douglass' biography lets us see the world from his eyes. To me, that's what I love about literature: the ability to step into someone else's shoes. And I like to step into shoes that don't always belong to white males.
One component of literature is the opportunity to step into someone else's shoes. However, this characteristic alone does not a great novel make.
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Old 04-29-2006, 09:32 AM   #29 (permalink)
 
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To me, that's what I love about literature: the ability to step into someone else's shoes. And I like to step into shoes that don't always belong to white males.
I agree, Owl. I personally loved Things Fall Apart, and I took an entire African Literature course, after my BA, because I wanted to study more literature from that continent. I am not one to balk at reading international literature; I'm an anthropologist, after all! I think it's crucial for every person to be exposed to a wide array of good literature from all backgrounds.

However, my point is not to debate the politics of teaching otherwise marginalized literature. It's that kids want to read easy literature, and they bitch and moan about it when it's not spoon-fed to them... and many teachers and school districts cave in to some extent, so "at least the kids are reading" (even if the material is far below their cognitive ability). In that sense, the canon alone is not just changing, it's the *attitude* towards the classics... in a classroom, if kids get one or two easy, contemporary novels to read, and then you introduce a classic to them, they whine and cry that they aren't smart enough, they don't get it, someone needs to help them (or they just give up and fail). Most of them end up skimming anyway, writing the papers the night before, and not really engaging deeply in the material. I see this time and time again at both the HS and college level. People want education to be easy, period. I don't like that.
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Old 04-29-2006, 05:09 PM   #30 (permalink)
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I must admit that we read some books in school that just seemed totally pointless. But then, my English score was lousy.

One thing that threw me for a loop was that a large part of the assessment (here) was based on us constructing arguments and essays based on cases from novels.

I can barely hold that concept in my mind long enough to write anything.

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Old 04-29-2006, 09:11 PM   #31 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by ratbastid
Shakespeare teaches what's fundamental and universal about humanity.

Think about it: there's almost no English-based text that's less immediately comprehensible (okay, Chaucer might be worse, but that's almost not English anymore, as we think of it). The language is difficult in both its verbal and figurative qualities. But the emotions and experiences it expresses are still totally relevant to us (including to young people) today. Why do you think Romeo and Juliet gets such wide reading in High Schools? Because love-tormented teenagers have been the same since the dawn of time!

Reading Shakespeare grounds you in what's fundamental about humanity. You see that you're not alone, or even particularly unique. It's a deeply resonant and reassuring experience.
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"To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing."
I had to memorize that in high school english for a test. At that time, Rush had already sung a similar line in Limelight, AA Big Book personal stories, I see it referenced in movies, books, speeches, I've even seen it quoted as part of the NYC Subway poetry.
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Old 05-03-2006, 12:43 PM   #32 (permalink)
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I don't think Shakespeare has much to say about human experience, at least he's not the best or most interesting playwright in that field. *coughIbsencough* But he is by far the most quoted, paraphrased and generally played with, so Shakespeare (and the Bible, and Homer, Virgil, Cervantes etc) is like a basic body of knowledge required to understand and interpret more modern literature and other forms of art.
Also, being able to deciper a text that isn't plain and straight-forward is a VERY valuable skill in every path of life. But reading Shakespeare requires a lot of initial guidance, not only because the language is old-fashioned, but because reading a play is way different from reading a novel. Me, I'm so used to it that I have no trouble at all, but I've recently had to guide some first-timers through the joys of only dialogue and stage directions and it was an enlightening experience.
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Old 05-03-2006, 01:02 PM   #33 (permalink)
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My high school English teachers didn't teach Shakespeare beyond Romeo and Juliet. However, we did have to learn Chaucer. I would have preferred Shakespeare, which I elected to take in college as an ENGL major.

I think either Chaucer or Shakespeare should be introduced in high school for a couple of reasons. It gives some history of the English language, and as far as being relevant...

Crazy rulers? Gang fights? Teen sex? Teen suicide? Witches?

Okay, maybe witches aren't relevant.
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Old 05-03-2006, 01:05 PM   #34 (permalink)
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SImply put, the best, if not only, way to grow is to get outside your comfort zone and do something that you haven't done everyday of your life. Does Shakespeare teach univeral truths or only "white" truths? I don't think it matters at all. Let the acedemics argue that. What reading Shakespeare does is make you get outside your everyday vernacular, it makes you think and shows you that Hollywood really isn't very creative.

I think all people should read something a little outside their daily experience on a regular basis, if for no other reason than to understand that segment of society or history.
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Old 05-03-2006, 02:25 PM   #35 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Charlatan
The key to understanding the classics, especially the idiosyncratic language of Shakespeare, is having a good teacher....
Dude, I am catching what you are pitching.

In order to communicate with people, to have your ideas presented clearly to others requires a certain command of the language. How are you supposed to vent without Shakespeare?

Hey, it's like listening to the Beatles, Presley and Led Zeppelin. How can you appreciate contemporary music today without knowing where music came from?

Folks, what scares me is that you are relying on a guy in a room making 26 grand a year to tell your kids what to read.

Do you think these fucking teachers have read Shakespeare? Chaucer? I bet not. They got a couple of classes in English Lit under their belt, and they plagarized the fucking essays in the first place. The Lesson Plan spoon-feeds the shit they are supposed to discuss. They don't care about Shakespeare any more than your kids do.

But Charlatan said it, and I agree: Once in a very long time, you get a teacher who is passionate about literature, and they enstill that passion into those around them.

You don't like stuff pulled off of the curriculum in schools? I find it funny and ironic.

Buy your kids the classics, and show them how important they are.

I haven't read EVERYTHING Shakespeare wrote, but I have read enough to enjoy his work (and get the jokes when people make fun of him).
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Old 05-03-2006, 02:47 PM   #36 (permalink)
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Do you think these fucking teachers have read Shakespeare? Chaucer? I bet not. They got a couple of classes in English Lit under their belt, and they plagarized the fucking essays in the first place. The Lesson Plan spoon-feeds the shit they are supposed to discuss. They don't care about Shakespeare any more than your kids do.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. You're launching a huge insult at the majority of teachers. Most teachers in the United States start out at 28k a year. Secondly, most states require a Master's degree or completion of teacher training beyond the baccalaureate level. Furthermore, most states also require that teachers pass a general education assessment test, such as the CBEST (California and Oregon's exam) or the WEST-B (Washington State's exam). Then they must usually display knowledge of the subject through another assessment exam.

For teaching in secondary school in Oregon, the requirements state I must have an undergraduate degree in my subject area. That means a degree in English. And guess what my specialty is? You got it--Shakespeare. I'm not alone, either. And I'm pretty sure very few of my classmates plagiarized their papers--I know I sure didn't. As for being spoon-fed a lesson plan...sure, more and more teachers are having to teach to the test, but that's not their fault. We can blame No Child Left Behind for that one.

No one with only six credits of English lit would ever get hired to teach secondary English, and you usually need more than that to teach in elementary school too. So let's not pick on the teachers, eh?

They're doing the best they can given the pretty awful situation in American education at present. They're sorely underpaid and overworked. If anything, they deserve our pity, not our scorn. Our educators are being asked to step up to the plate more and more in ways that parents should be, and that's what makes education difficult in modern times. Most teachers I know show up every day with a passion for the work they do. Some don't, however, and I think that has more to do with the bureaucracy, the bullshit, the paperwork, and the stuff OUTSIDE of the classroom than it does with the subject matter or even the kids.

But please, let's not lump the good educators--and there are many--in with the few bad apples.
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Old 05-03-2006, 02:59 PM   #37 (permalink)
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I read Shakespeare for book reports in Elementary school. I didn't get the nuances or some of the symbolism but I understood the general storyline. Then I went to do a bookreport on it. The teacher called in my parents for a parent-teacher conference because she believed that my parents had helped or completely written my bookreport for me. Then my Mom insisted that ask me questions about the book. They couldn't think of any right away without skimming through the book themselves. I do believe that they didn't know what was in the book. I answered the questions completely and showed comprehension. If my Mom hadn't made them ask me questions they would not have given me credit for the books. That's what they had intended to do.

I think children are let off the hook too much today. It's not about becoming a "human". It's about developing character, hard work, learning how to read between the lines, recognize detail, and understand symbolism. It's about learning how to function at a higher intellectual level than just your own needs. Not to mention that if you read any intelligent news or even newspaper comics there are occasionally references to the classics which you will not understand if you do not read them.
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Old 05-03-2006, 03:03 PM   #38 (permalink)
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For teaching in secondary school in Oregon, the requirements state I must have an undergraduate degree in my subject area. That means a degree in English.
Yeah, same at my school system in the backwards, redneck south. If you wanted to teach English, you had to major in English... AND education. It wasn't a course load for the faint of heart. And then you had to pass the NTE general and English.

My English degree required Chaucer or Shakespeare, American Lit, British Lit, Contemporary Lit, Greek and Norse Mythology, Business Writing, Rhetoric of writing, a few creative writing classes, Pop Culture, two semesters of a foreign language, linguistics, journalism classes, and marketing. Additionally, for some reason the head of the department came up with a plan for ENGL majors to write a thesis for a B.A. instead of taking the exit exam. The exit exam was akin to the SAT - a couple hours, get above STUPID and you get your diploma. For my thesis, I wrote a comparison of Blake and Wordsworth.


Thesis - 20 pages, without source notes.

Thank God I didn't have to read Silas Marner. I hate that book.
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Old 05-03-2006, 06:48 PM   #39 (permalink)
 
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But please, let's not lump the good educators--and there are many--in with the few bad apples.
Yep--thanks for representin' Owl. Personally, my teacher certification program required 60 quarter credits in Secondary Education methods and theory, and none of those went to my major, which was English (also required about 60 quarter credits--including a required seminar entirely on Shakespeare). Additionally, we had to get another endorsement, so I minored in History and took enough extra courses to be able to teach that as well.

So I'm not sure where this idea of someone who doesn't know what they're doing is a valid one--nor is it fair to say that because teachers get paid so low (for their level of education) that it somehow reduces their quality. In fact, I think that *because* they teach for so little, they should earn more of our respect. It's sad that teachers don't get paid as much as, say, engineers... I think teachers' jobs are just as important, if not more so, and they sure as hell work the same long hours (I was around 50-60 hours a week when I was teaching). It always puzzles me, why teachers' salaries are so low... it shows you the priorities of our society, in many ways.
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Old 05-04-2006, 02:39 AM   #40 (permalink)
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There are a number of teachers here in NYC public schools that became teachers during the teacher shortage in the 90s. They didn't have to have any certifications at all. When they had less students and too many teachers they did some sorting out and most of these people lost their jobs.

Most of them had no background in teaching, education, or anything for that matter. They needed bodies to watch children.
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