Shakespeare in the 21st Century?
Every educator must ask themselves this question: How am I meeting the practical needs of my students in the 21st century, particularly students who are disadvantaged intellectually, socially, economically, etc.?
There is a movement afoot in North American Education that answers this question with resume writing skills and language training; these are important skills, no doubt.
However, resumes do not inspire students. Literature does. Even… nay, especially Shakespeare. The value of Shakespeare is that it transcends time and place and meets us on the level plain of our humanity—we have all loved (like Romeo), felt pain and pondered our mortality (like Hamlet), succumbed to temptation (like Macbeth), been blinded by jealousy (like Othello).
Educators ought to give all their students the opportunity to experience the wonder and beauty of literature. I have worked with essential level students and they often perceive themselves as “second class citizens” intellectually. By demystifying the supposed “elitist” literature like Shakespeare, students are empowered. They CAN read Shakespeare, they CAN understand Shakespeare, they CAN recite Shakespeare.
The beauty of English is that we teach with stories. The narrative should drive the class. The students’ desire to know what happens next in the story motivates them to learn and keep learning.
A student will ask, “What does Shakespeare have to do with me?” I believe it gives us hope of something better. It gives us an understanding of who we are as human beings; it gives us a glimpse of a world that is bigger than the world we think we know.
This sounds pretty idealistic, but I believe it is true. I taught Essential Level English students at a vocational school and now I teach Academic students at a private school. I find that students from both ends of the academic spectrum love to be inspired and empowered. I believe that teaching good literature is at the heart of it. For the Essential level students I also taught them how to write resumes, food service menus, how to use a phone book. The Academic students learn how to write essays and critical arguments. But more importantly, they learn why resumes and essays matter—they matter because life matters. This central purpose of English teaching does not change. What I mean by “life matters” is not simply the mundane aspects of life. I mean the spiritual, mind-enriching and soul-searching aspects of life. I believe literature helps my students see beauty in their lives. If they can see this beauty, then they will also begin to see the God of beauty Himself.