Tuesday, October 17, 2006

EDUCATION: Kill all the Shakespeareans

Not a day doesn't go by that I don't have to stop and repeat something I've said, usually in plainer, less accurate terms, because some high-school educated person I'm talking to doesn't get what I am saying.

I'm hardly William F. Buckley, but for comparative purposes, my level of language is akin to Elizabethan English to too many 'educated' youngsters and young adults. It makes me wonder WHAT we are teaching in English class in high school today. I hear lots of Shakespeare and I shudder.

Shakespeare wrote in a dialect of English that no longer exists. It bears only a passing resemblance to what is spoken today and is taught as a sop to the teachers that educated our teachers. It's almost like an initiation process. "I had to put up with Shakespeare and for the one of You in this class that will become an English major and eventually a teacher, You are going to have to go through this too". Better they be stripped naked and be forced to run a gauntlet of their peers with tomahawks. Less florid speeches that turn off most students and more attention to getting all students to communicate effectively in today's workplace would be a giant first step in repairing education.

Before you scholars take to your keyboards in righteous anger, let me point out that I have NO problem with teaching Shakespeare in history. I think it would be boring there too, but it has a place there. It's relatively entertaining prose from a language that became that, that we speak today. The EVOLUTION of language is a historical subject. And it should make up a section in some year's historical curriculum. ONE SECTION. Not a semester's worth in each of three or four years.

Was ol' Will a wonderful wordsmith? Leaving aside the slight chance that his authorship was a fraud, I'd say yes. Some of the tropes we are ALL too familiar with today in our entertainment, seem to trace back to Shakespeare. But then again, there really are only seven different stories, and choice of language and/or dialect doesn't change that. Our educational system's devotion to Shakespeare has blinded the educators to the fact that student's don't read it, if unforced. Save for the one future English teacher in the student body.

Contemporary literature might be a minefield of mediocrity and modern magazines and newspapers a monument to short attention spans, but it IS the reading material students WILL be buying and consuming. Teaching good from bad, literate from eubonic pablum, honest from deceitful ... wouldn't THAT be a more effective use of the time we USED to call Language Arts?

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