Hello, faithful readers! Welcome, as always, to your weekly round-up of Shakespeare education news …
Shakespeare Under Fire
It seems like every week, these days, we’re reading about educational (if not cultural) wars over whether Shakespeare should be included in our classrooms. Last year, we followed an extensive back-and-forth over the New Zealand decision to dump Shakespeare from the final exam, all but relegating his plays to the “optional” pile of teachers’ yearly curricula. The move roused a bit of controversy on Shakespeare’s place in a modern student’s life.
In essence, we’ve seen the debate come down on two sides. One believes that students should have a fundamental understanding of important works of literature so that they can interact with society in an informed way. This group tends to align with the newly developed Core Standards that many states are quickly adopting across the U.S. (amidst the backlash against the emphasis on standardized testing) to address deep understanding of subjects like Shakespeare. In India, the Central Board of Secondary Education will introduce “open book” exams next year and the Deccan Herald noted how such testing would require a more critical understanding of works like Shakespeare’s Hamlet rather than simple, memorized information from the text.
The other side usually argues that Shakespeare is a long-held educational relic of an age that holds little relevance for modern students, and that his works should be replaced by new or even international works that represent similar themes and values. Proponents tend to complain that Shakespeare and his difficult language, while important, should not be required reading. Even Shakespeare lovers note that stagnant lesson plans and poor exam questions can quash a student’s enjoyment.
As Francis noted yesterday, Scotland’s education system has now entered the fray. The new Curriculum for Excellence has replaced works like Shakespeare’s with compulsory Scottish texts, much to the dismay of education professionals. Calling the new required readings “dismal” and “rubbish,” teachers and union leaders are complaining about the new curriculum – set for full implementation next year.
In addition, this week, a new study claimed that thirty percent of English children between six and twelve don’t know Shakespeare. About half of two thousand adults could not complete the line, “O, Romeo, Romeo …” and sixty-three percent said they learned about Shakespeare through television rather than school.
I haven’t seen the actual study, but I’m not particularly shocked that a twelve year old doesn’t know about Shakespeare yet. It is concerning, however, when half of an adult population can’t finish one of the most quoted lines in all of history. I’m pretty sure a thorough exposure to Looney Tunes could have clued the answer:
Business Meets EducationCST’s Short Shakespeare! Taming of the Shrew
- The Folger Shakespeare Library will present the Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Education Department with the Shakespeare Steward Award. The award is presented annually to a person or organization for innovative teaching of Shakespeare in American classrooms. CST will receive the award on November 2, prior to a performance of CPS Shakespeare! Hamlet.
- As previously mentioned, the San Diego Shakespeare Society will hold its annual Celebrity Sonnets event on Monday, October 8 at the Old Globe. Actors, dancers, singers, and more will read Shakespeare sonnets as part of an annual fundraiser to help pay for the Shakespeare Student Festival in Balboa Park.
Outreach OpportunitiesSF Shakespeare Festival’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream
The San Francisco Shakespeare Festival will launch its new “Shakespeare for All” program, funded by the James Irvine Foundation, in Salida, California. The program seeks to build new audiences for Shakespeare’s plays and give more people an opportunity to participate in performing arts. Participants, ages eight and up, will present a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on December 8 at the Salida library. On November 7, the SF Shakespeare Festival will also offer a free performance of Midsummer with professional actors and provide audience members an after-show “playshop” as a lead-up event to the community performance. The company plans to continue the program in Salida with another play next year and expand into Modesto.
The Tech Edge
- The Atlantic spotlights Bryn Mawr’s Professor Katharine Rowe and her newly developed Shakespeare app for The Tempest in the classroom. Rowe and Professor Elliott Visconsi founded Luminary Digital Media to build the app and hope to apply their work to other texts in the near future. You can read about our previous Luminary mention, and Visconsi’s interview, here.
- Nick Brous and First Folio Productions are producing a film version of Romeo and Juliet to pilot a program that hopes to make Shakespeare relevant to high school students. The film maintains the original dialogue but updates the setting and context to modern day with rivaling high schools, text messages, Facebook, and an anti-bullying stance on Tybalt. First Folio hopes to provide teachers with educational tools that can be used in the classroom or with homework. DVD packages will also come with suggested lesson plans.
Other Bits Of Interest
- Montana Shakespeare in the Schools will perform Shakespeare’s Macbeth to nearly twelve thousand students in communities throughout Montana and Wyoming during its annual fall tour. The ten-week tour begins October 12 and concludes in December. MONTANA SHAKES!, a tour designed specifically for elementary school children, will tour in the spring of 2013.
- Hartwick College will host The American Shakespeare Center’s touring performance of Love’s Labour’s Lost on October 14.
- The Davidson Community Players’ Connie Company will present The Tempest featuring a cast of fifteen teenage actors.
We’re always interested in your thoughts about any of these stories. What do you think about the Shakspearean knowledge survey? Tech in the classroom? Modern day films geared toward students? Do you plan to attend any of the shows or workshops? Start the conversation! We’re listening.