EDUCATION: More than job-training

One Shakespeare Play, Whoop-de-do

A lot of controversy has been stirred up by the newly adopted Common Core (State) Standards (CCSS) for public schools K-12.

One of the most discussed aspect of the CCSS is their stated reading requirements in terms of percentages. In elementary school, children are to read 50% literary and 50% informational texts. In high school the percentages become more and more skewed in favor of informational vs literary until in the 12th grade, classroom reading is to be 70% informational text.

The chief authors of the CCSS, David Coleman and Susan Pimentel, have voiced their surprise that so many people are expressing outrage at what they perceive to be the trashing of literature in favor of instruction manuals and legal briefs. They insist that literature is still supposed to be the focus of English and language arts classes.

In an interview in the NY Times, Pimentel, chief author of the CCSS English requirements, declared,

“Students have to read one Shakespeare play — that’s a requirement.”

Far from reassuring me as to the quality of education represented by the new standards, Pimentel’s comment causes me to shudder in dismay.

I suppose that in these days of dumbed-down public education the requirement of studying one Shakespeare play grades 9-12 is better than none. But when one considers the influence of the writings of Shakespeare on our language and literature, one of his plays in four years is pretty pitiful.

The CCSS are supposed to represent an improvement in the public school curriculum.

It depends on what one considers an improvement.

In my high school in a small Arkansas town (population 29,000) in the 1950s, we studied Julius Caesar in 9th grade, As You Like It in 10th grade, Romeo and Juliet in 11th grade, and Macbeth in 12th grade. This high school introduction to the plays of Shakespeare was the catalyst that led to my lifelong love of language and literature.

True, my decision to teach English was probably not the wisest career move, but literature has enriched my life and provided solace in times of distress. It could do the same for our future corporate CEOs and computer programmers–but only if they are exposed to it while they are young.

One Shakespeare play. Whoop-de-doo.

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