Political corectness' latest casualty: Shakespeare
|To not delete Shakespeare
from the classroom
Political correctness in Canada has some school boards dropping the works Shakespeare. We need to be more sensitivity and inclusive to indigenous writers. Ontario’s Lambton Kent District School Board has dropped Shakespeare from its mandatory Grade 11 English course and replaced the content with modern, non-white authors. The diverse literary works include Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese, Medicine River by Thomas King, My Name is Seepeetza by Shirley Sterling, or As Long as the Rivers Flow by James Bartleman. The Peel District School Board, in Brampton, Ontario, has taken a similar direction: to drop works like Romeo and Juliet, as well as To Kill a Mockingbird and Lord of the Flies. And on it goes across Canada’s school boards.
According to Poleen Grewal, the superintendent of equity support and services, at the Peel Board, the time has come to focus on “equity and inclusion.” And so it’s just fine to remove writers like Shakespeare, Orwell, Golding and Lee. Students must be exposed to a literary climate of diversity and inclusion, whatever that means on any given day. One sure take away is that if you’re a Western traditional white author like Shakespeare your works may no longer be required reading.
In the name of changing times, plus the need for ethically-diverse literature and that life today isn’t like it was 450 years ago, Shakespeare has got to go. What a regressive decision. Curriculum expectations, says the educational bureaucrats, can be taught without bothering with such hard and challenging works as Hamlet, Macbeth, The Tempest, Othello and King Lear. Anyway, it’s difficult to understand the old bard and no longer necessary stuff. Bring in the new and relevant indigenous writers.
It’s terrible mistake to remove Shakespeare from the English curriculum. By not exposing students to Shakespeare, schools deny them the experience of encountering some of the best literature that has ever been created. Let’s look at just a few examples:
This is from Act 3, scene1, of The Merchant of Venice. The character Shylock who is a Jew makes this insightful observation about the equality and worth of all human beings:
To bait fish withal. If it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me and hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies—and what’s his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me I will execute—and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.
Even if we forget the beauty of how the thought is expressed, the soliloquy contains a convincing idea to help anyone, not just students, to better understand human dignity, equality and the need to respect others who may have a different religion, come from another race or hold contrary views. All students can profit from reading and experiencing this challenging, imaginative and instructive world.
Consider this monologue by Iago, from Othello, Act 1, Scene 3:
Virtue! a fig! ’tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners: so that if we will plant nettles, or sow lettuce, set hyssop and weed up thyme, supply it with one gender of herbs, or distract it with many, either to have it sterile with idleness, or manured with industry, why, the power and corrigible authority of this lies in our wills. If the balance of our lives had not one scale of reason to poise another of sensuality, the blood and baseness of our natures would conduct us to most preposterous conclusions: but we have reason to cool our raging motions, our carnal stings, our unbitted lusts, whereof I take this that you call love to be a sect or scion.
Iago successfully ends bringing down Othello, but his idea that human will unchecked by reason and virtues leads to destruction is still valid and true in 2017 as it was in Shakespeare’s time. The human heart, mind and imagination can be educated by Shakespeare’s plays, sonnets and poems. In dropping Shakespeare is akin to teaching students how to play tennis by removing the net in a misguided effort to let everyone play. Students should be exposed to the best writers. In the words of Robert Browning
“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve;
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
Is life itself as unreal as a play? Is there no more to life? What is real and what is an illusion? Students are very much interested in these questions and discovering how best to answer them. The great works of Shakespeare speak for themselves. And the large imaginative world that Shakespeare shapes contains good and evil, love and hate, ambition and jealousy, virtue and vice but a sense of justice pervades every work. No doubt Shakespeare had thoroughly read the Bible. This is what students need today more than ever: a writer that can elevate their thinking, stretch their literary experience and richly populate the imagination. Shakespeare is one of those few authors who has set the standard for great literary works.
Students should be rather proud that they have at least read one Shakespearean play in high school. Those that do will be the ones to insist that Shakespeare be kept in the curriculum. Let them be proud of the Western tradition and that some great writers just happen to be white. Let’s stop the madness of political correctness and fake diversity. Boards administrators, let English teachers, especially those that can, teach Shakespeare. If they want to drop anything, drop the equity and diversity board officers. This move will save taxpayers some money while keeping literary greatness in the schools.