A response to the op-ed that appeared in the Washington Post today (Teacher: Why I don’t want to assign Shakespeare anymore [even though he’s in the Common Core])

Today, the Washington Post ran an op-ed by a 25-year vet of the high school classroom titled “Teacher: Why I don’t want to assign Shakespeare anymore (even though he’s in the Common Core),” the climax of which was the provocative statement “I admit that this proposal, that we leave Shakespeare out of the English curriculum entirely, will offend many.”

Provocative, indeed. Consider me provoked.

OK, so … I usually let this kind of thing go.

But today, I don’t want to.

This writer-teacher has a right to her opinion, as incorrect and debilitating to her students as I find it to be. I admire her passion, as misguided as I believe it may be. I’m betting she’s a wonderful teacher, and her students feed off and benefit from that passion.

And I would never begin to say she doesn’t have the right to express that opinion. But voicing that opinion in the public square then opens one up to responses from the public in that square.

Here’s the deal: The teacher in question admits that she doesn’t want to teach Shakespeare because she “dislike(s) Shakespeare because of (her) own personal disinterest in reading stories written in an early form of the English language that (she) cannot always easily navigate.” OK, I accept that she can’t navigate Shakespeare (but please don’t blame it on the works’ use of “early” English because they don’t… they’re in early modern English). She wishes to teach “a WORLD of really exciting literature out there that better speaks to the needs of (her) very ethnically-diverse and wonderfully curious modern-day students.” I agree wholeheartedly.

I have never said that Shakespeare should be taught to the exclusion of other authors from other times and other cultures. Never, nor would I ever. That would be stupid and dismissive of those cultures.

As dismissive as when she refers Shakespeare as “a long-dead, British guy…ONE (white) MAN,” and speaks of “mostly white” teachers (though she is willing to throw them the bone of being “respected”) who “(perhaps unwittingly) promote the notion that other cultural perspectives are less important.”

My response: “Ma’am, your own prejudices are showing.”

She wants to “leave Shakespeare out of the English curriculum entirely.”

My response: “How inclusive of you… very open-minded.”

You don’t like Shakespeare, that’s cool. I don’t like brussels sprouts. I know they’re good for me, but I can’t stand them. So I don’t eat them. You don’t like Shakespeare, fine… don’t teach it. I’m willing to bet there’s quite a bit of “emotional leakage” when you do teach it, so your students are going to be predisposed to not like it as well; with your passion, it would be hard not to have that effect.

So please, for those of us who love Shakespeare and who love teaching Shakespeare (thus sharing our love of Shakespeare with the students), stop teaching Shakespeare. If you’re so concerned about new “rights-of-passage (sic)” as opposed to rites-of-passage, do us all a favor and give your students the right of passing around your discussion of Shakespeare. You’re doing more damage than good.

Just don’t take away MY opportunity to bring Shakespeare to students. I know what I’m doing, and I do it because I love it, and I love it because those works do speak to all cultures (visit MIT’s Global Shakespeares and Shakespeare’s Globe [especially their Globe Player] for proof of that).


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