“Cowards die many times before their deaths, the valiant never taste of death but once.”
“What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god — the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals!”
It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.
~ William Shakespeare
Dana Dusbiber, a veteran teacher at Luther Burbank High School, wrote an article for The Washington Post about why she does not teach Shakespeare even though it’s in Common Core. She finds it too ‘Eurocentric’, in other words, British and white.
Luther Burbank is the largest inner-city school in Sacramento, California.
Ms. Dusbiber sees no reason to teach Shakespeare – a long dead British white guy. Actually he was English but let’s not bother with details. The clincher is that she doesn’t want to teach the works of a ‘long-dead British guy’ who’s taught because some ‘white people decided upon it long ago’.
This is the most relevant section:
I am a high school English teacher. I am not supposed to dislike Shakespeare. But I do. And not only do I dislike Shakespeare because of my own personal disinterest in reading stories written in an early form of the English language that I cannot always easily navigate, but also because there is a WORLD of really exciting literature out there that better speaks to the needs of my very ethnically-diverse and wonderfully curious modern-day students.
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 am sad that so many of my colleagues teach a canon that some white people decided upon so long ago and do it without question. I am sad that we don’t believe enough in ourselves as professionals to challenge the way that it has “always been done.” I am sad that we don’t reach beyond our own often narrow beliefs about how young people become literate to incorporate new research on how teenagers learn, and a belief that our students should be excited about what they read — and that may often mean that we need to find the time to let them choose their own literature. [emphasis mine]
Shakespeare – the old dead British [sic] guy’s grave
There is a point in what she says. Shakespeare is certainly over-hyped and the elite have given it a snob factor. All the more reason to let inner city children in on what the elite might consider theirs. It’s also condescending to assume her students wouldn’t understand or want to understand Shakespeare.
How unfortunate that no one was able to bring Shakespeare to life for Dusbiber and how sad that she doesn’t understand that the same themes that ran through Shakespeare’s life run through all of ours today. His characters are thoroughly developed and their inner turmoil covers the range of emotions and motives.
Shakespeare broadens students understanding of the world – all students. Teaching children literature that deals only what they already know is not very enlightening.
Shakespeare is the greatest English writer of all times.
His contribution to our language is enormous. Some of the best words and phrases came from him, check some of them out:
bare-faced, baseless, countless, courtship, critic, critical, denote, disgraceful, dishearten, distrustful, dwindle, eventful, exposure, fitful, fretful, gloomy, hurry, impartial, inauspicious, lonely, misplaced, monumental, recall, suspicious, the green-eyed monster, beware the ides of March, the seven ages of man, We are such stuff as dreams are made on, Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, To be, or not to be: that is the question, it’s Greek to me, more sinned than sinned against, recall your salad days, playing fast and loose, hoodwinked, in a pickle, tongue-tied, bid me a good riddance, seen better day, laughing stock, devil incarnate, and so many more.
If you have something you want to say, Shakespeare has a word or a phrase for you.
When taught correctly, when understood, Shakespeare is exactly what inner city kids need. There is no greater dramatist, poet or prose writer in the history of the language.
Shakespeare inspired Anna Deavere Smith, actress, playwright and professor.
Shakespeare was meant to be performed. I was fortunate enough to have a Shakespearean actor teach my Shakespeare course. He acted out the parts and made it current. Ms. Dusbiber could take the opportunity to have students act out parts and become part of the story.
Romeo and Juliet is in part about the rivalry and animosity between two gangs – the Montagues and the Capulets. That is very relevant to the present day.
A teacher has to make Shakespeare come alive but can’t do it if s/he doesn’t understand it.
Shakespeare transcends time and culture.
Marchette Chute, in the Introduction to her famous retelling of Shakespeare’s stories, summarizes one of the reasons for Shakespeare’s immeasurable fame:
William Shakespeare was the most remarkable storyteller that the world has ever known. Homer told of adventure and men at war, Sophocles and Tolstoy told of tragedies and of people in trouble. Terence and Mark Twain told comedic stories, Dickens told melodramatic ones, Plutarch told histories and Hand Christian Andersen told fairy tales. But Shakespeare told every kind of story – comedy, tragedy, history, melodrama, adventure, love stories and fairy tales – and each of them so well that they have become immortal. In all the world of storytelling he has become the greatest name. (Stories from Shakespeare, 11)
Teaching Shakespeare to inner city youth is especially important because, aside from all else, the exposure to rich, vibrant, inspiring language is an experience they might not otherwise have.
Shakespeare understood the human condition and wrote about people in all walks of life. Shakespeare isn’t a man of his times, he’s a man for all times, he’s not a dead British [sic] guy, he’s every man.
Dana Dusbiber, photo above
Ms. Dusbiber teaches in a school that is primarily Asian and Hispanic with blacks as a more distant third. If they don’t speak English very well, the language of Shakespeare is a challenge but it’s also a great way to teach the best written English ever written. Movoto reports that Luther Burbank high school students achieve a score of 38% on the 2012 CST English Language Arts. The students could use some language enrichment.
Ms. Dusbiber thinks she isn’t “cheating” her students but she is by keeping the greatest English author of all times from them and she’s doing it with a ridiculous explanation.
Rufus Wainwright was inspired to sing Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29.
Story from WaPo