Why I do want you to…

The Washington Post ran a story on 13 June entitled: Teacher: Why I don’t want to assign Shakespeare anymore (even though he’s in the Common Core). It was written by Valerie Strauss. The original is here.  This is my response...

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Image: A flaming depiction of William Shakespeare during a fireworks display in England on April 23, 2014. (Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett)

I really despair at this. Yes I like Shakespeare and yes, I may be a little biased but that is not the point. This teacher, called Ms Dana Dusbiber, seems to be playing the race card in so much that her main thrust is that she shouldn’t have to teach her “children of colour” about works by a long dead English white guy. I really think she is missing the point.

Ms Dusbiber is completely entitled to her opinion but because her opinion is that she dislikes Shakespeare she will prevent her students being introduced to his works? Really? The whole reason that these works are still vibrant and relevant is that he wrote so sublimely about the human condition. That is why you can have a black, white, asian, latin, ANY spin on the stories and they still work.

But leave the relevance aside for a minute. She wishes to teach other types of works. Like South American or Asian oral culture. Good. I think that’s great. But I wonder how many of her charges are long dead Latins or Asians? Surely, if the reason to not teach something is based on it not being “like” the students then all she will teach is stories about middle school youth of today?

I went to a “working-class” high school in Northern Ireland. Shakespeare held as much relevance for me as he does for this teacher’s kids in high school in California. Other than I might have been a similar hue to the Bard, that was it really. Yet through the very exposure to his rhythm, his words, his thoughts and his stories my mind was expanded. I also liked Enid Blyton and would have probably stuck with her, but William taught me to give books and plays that were outside my cultural and intellectual “expected-norms” a try at least.

That willingness to try saw me read Ulysses by Joyce (Well not really. Try to read and fail over and over and over, so I know I DON’T LIKE IT and you can’t make me try again.) But at least I tried. It made me read Graves, Russel, Trollope, Parker and everything else up to Angelou, Connolly and Giminez. Some I liked, some I didn’t. Most are of no more relevance to me today than Shakespeare but I try them to find out if they are worth my time. For that literary curiosity I have to thank my exposure to Shakespeare. And Mr McCann, my high school teacher, for sticking to the curriculum. Thanks for not deciding to break away. Thanks for not deciding that a long dead white guy wasn’t relevant. And for the kids in Sacramento, California I can only hope that your teacher has a change of heart and decides to teach a wide array of texts that challenge your cultural norms and expand your minds.

I guess it will be… or not.

Ian Andrew
Living White Guy, Australia

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