Sunday, September 18, 2011

21st century Shakespeare

One thing that got lost in the discussion following the NY Times' recent exposé of a school district in Arizona that has spent $33 million on laptops, big interactive screens and so-called educational software and is asking for $46.3 million for more of the same even as its test scores are falling and its music, art, and phys ed classes are being cut, is what is happening to Shakespeare:

Amy Furman, a seventh-grade English teacher here, roams among 31 students sitting at their desks or in clumps on the floor. They’re studying Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” — but not in any traditional way.

In this technology-centric classroom, students are bent over laptops, some blogging or building Facebook pages from the perspective of Shakespeare’s characters. One student compiles a song list from the Internet, picking a tune by the rapper Kanye West to express the emotions of Shakespeare’s lovelorn Silvius.
This is a great way to ruin literature in general, but reducing Shakespeare in particular to the psycho/sociological perspectives of his characters is particularly ruinous.  Despite claims by some that Shakespeare invented the human, human psychology was not Shakespeare's strong suit. His characters are constantly falling in love--or tumbling into murderous jealousy--at the drop of a hat or handkerchief; switching love interests at the lifting of a disguise; and ridiculously prone to deception (c.f., e.g., the "transvestite comedies"), persuasion ( And be it moon, or sun, or what you please: An if you please to call it a rush-candle, Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me.) or (most infamously) forgiveness.

No, what Shakespeare excelled in was--of course--language, and the radiant gems of wisdom into which he worked it. Some of my favorites:

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

 or:

The undiscovere'd country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns 

or:

Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.  

What would these look like as status updates on Facebook?

1 comment:

Laura said...

Yes... isn't it loverly... *sigh*

This is one of the reasons why I homeschool here in the beautiful State of Arizona. My tax dollars fund programs such as this and an iPod for every foreign language student in High School (Oh, wait... they don't actually use the iPods because the School District and IT Dept. can't agree on how to transfer the lessons to the iPods). But I digress...

It's all School-lite anymore...