On Shakespeare’s birthday, April 23, 1564, we need to examine just how brilliant his insights are to today’s education.
As a fairly new teacher with a few years of experience in the early 1970s, I was struck by a list of “Ten Warning Signs of Teen Suicidal Behavior” that were put on view in both the offices of our school nurse and our counselors. For the first time, big name universities had researched and published these lists to be distributed in high schools across the nation. These lists and sites are now commonplace, and the number of warning signs vary.
At that time I was completing a teaching a unit on Romeo and Juliet to high school freshmen. I was astonished to see that recent research and list.
I took several of these lists and posted them in my classroom. For one day I had each class search for the signs in Romeo and Juliet which was written and performed in 1599.
Nine of the ten signs from that list were discovered in Shakespeare’s plays. The intense interest of each class, regardless of their ability level placement, was astonishing. They poured over the work often finding additional hints and inferred suggestions. (Many of these students were reluctant readers who avoided reading anything.)
This was not a test with any form of grade attached. I chose to teach them that life will give them tests of much greater importance than one test grade in one semester of one class in one subject area in high school.
They all came to the conclusion that snitching is either not snitching or that snitching was not as important as the life of a fellow human being.
The following year, and for many years afterward, new students came in waiting for me to get to that in-class assignment with their own personal research ready for announcement. I, of course, told them how surprised I was of their own personal motivation to learn and teach others lessons from Shakespeare that are important to our lives.
Shakespeare is, as many of us know, disappearing from the required curriculum in high schools and colleges in America. The training offered by scripted texts offered by facilitators and people with no freedom to interact with students has become a new norm in what passes for education. Online learning assures the inability to interact face to face during those precious moments of awareness, sharing, and real learning that have far reaching consequences that none of us can even imagine.
Public education, professional and well qualified teachers, adequately funded public schools and more are all under attack by profiteers and corporate owned politicians who don’t give a damn about consequences or individual human lives that are not their own.
Fight for public education however possible locally and nationally. In 1599 Shakespeare understood life changing situations. In 2017 we need to heed his admonitions.
(By the way, what sections in Romeo and Juliet apply to the warning signs of teen suicide? You are an adult, read it yourself – and prepare to be astonished. Better yet, as a play that was meant to be well-acted and produced, watch the Zefferelli film that was nominated for many awards, including American Academy Awards.)