To teach or not to teach
Many high school graduates in California have read Shakespeare's work as teenagers. Past and current students have asked themselves, their peers and their teachers, "Why do I have to read about this?" It is no secret that Shakespeare's plays are part of California's state-wide curriculum, but why is it a universal requirement of education? The English teachers at Marysville Charter Academy for the Arts have their own opinions on the subject.
Shakespeare has always provided an insight into psychology, history and art. "The stories are classic," said Andrea Mejia, the ninth- and 11th-grade English teacher at MCAA. However, due to the language and time gap, students struggle to understand what is happening. "They can't tell what the characters are thinking or feeling," Mejia explained, and because of this, they give up easily.
So why does it continue to be mandatory?
Ruth Atkins, the 12th-grade and AP language and composition teacher, shared the reasons that she reads Shakespeare: "To examine forces at play in society, and to get a sense of spiritual sanity in a largely insane world." If Atkins were given a choice as an educator, she said that she "would probably try to teach it anyway."
Texts like "Hamlet," "Macbeth" and "Romeo and Juliet" were written centuries ago and no longer seem to apply to modern society. The archaic language as well as confusing syntax have always posed a problem for young readers. Mejia said, "Kids don't read stuff like that anymore."
How can teachers overcome this barrier? Atkins argued that she "(doesn't) like to change the language unless (she has) to." She's against paraphrasing the text. Mejia agreed, "It's valuable for students to have to sift through difficult language" by using context clues and studying vocabulary.
Armed with strategies to decode Shakespeare's words, the conception of the text can be further developed. At MCAA, high-schoolers are currently at an advantage because of its extensive drama department. Many students are interested in theater, and the English teachers exploit the talents of young actors when teaching Shakespeare. "It works because we have an art school," said Atkins, who is implementing more in-class productions of scenes.
Asa Robinson, the 10th-grade English instructor, said that teaching Shakespeare in high school "is a commitment" and "a challenge." Although there is an amount of dedication and hassle that is required to teach these plays, the education is useful and important. Robinson also pointed out that "little things from Shakespeare will show up in movies or other books."
If students can overcome the obstacles set forth by the dialect of the playwright's time, a greater understanding of English as well as human character awaits them, along with an appreciation for Shakespeare's poetry and artistic wisdom. No matter how much time passes between Shakespeare's era and our own, the human condition will endure and continue to connect us with the ages past.
T.J. Scott is a senior at the Marysville Charter Academy for the Arts. Her column appears every six weeks in Education.