The Reasons Why Shakespeare Should Be Taught in High School

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Four centuries have passed since the death of William Shakespeare, the great dramatist and classical poet of the English language, and in addition to the general acclaim for his work and the controversies over whether he really existed or was only the pseudonym or the scribe of Someone else, the debate has increased with the discussion on the question “should Shakespeare be taught in high school to the adolescents and young Americans of today”.

At first impression, it would seem inappropriate to discard from the US curricula a literary legacy as powerful, endearing, and transcendent as Shakespeare’s. But in a way that’s what Dana Dusbiber, a high school teacher in Sacramento, California, where most of the students come from minority and low-income families, defends in her strict teaching environment.

For Dusbiber, according to the Washington Post account, Shakespeare is simply not relevant. Dusbiber confesses that he does not like Shakespeare and that he does not believe that a white Englishman who died in 1616 is the only way to teach his students about the human condition, nor that that author should be taught in his classroom simply because he has always been like this

She believes that for today’s young people, who live in a complex world of great racial and cultural diversity, it is better to teach them the reality of that world and its inhabitants through, for example, African oral traditions or translations of early works of art. Latin America or Southeast Asia. He prefers to get away from the Eurocentrism implicit in Shakespeare and to teach his students, who are Latino, African-American, and Asian, literature from his roots.

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Dusbiber’s approach has interesting aspects, but there are those who disagree and not because they are defenders of academic conservatism. In an article in the New Republic, Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig agrees that Shakespeare should not be taught to exclude other authors from other races or latitudes and that expanding the reference bibliography in schools is undoubtedly convenient, but disagrees that this implies discarding ‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘Othello’ or ‘Hamlet’ from the classrooms. He also agrees that the world portrayed in Shakespeare’s works is different from the current one, but adds that this is precisely why it is a valuable and capital work because it allows us to understand the past, the way humanity has passed along centuries and the things that, in the background or in the form, subsist as values ​​and universal human referents. And, of course, there is the simple beauty of his lyrics.

The mind, soul, and heart of high school students are just in time to open themselves to the world in all its expressions, with Shakespeare, yes, and many others. And although this only applies to the debate in American schools where English is the reference language, the discussion could be expanded, for example, to the teaching of Cervantes who, also almost 400 years after his death, should continue to be read, studied and translated into schools, something that does not necessarily happen. And the list is broad.

On the other hand, although in the secondary schools of the USA the education of Shakespeare is obligatory (and part of the Common Core), in the universities it is not, except in certain cases. According to the Washington Post, most English-language university programs no longer require that their students study the background of Shakespearean work.

And although one can fairly ask how anyone can graduate in English letters without having thoroughly analyzed Shakespeare, that would be a possibility in many cases. According to the Post, of 52 institutions analyzed, only Harvard, Berkeley, the Naval Academy, and Wellesley College have compulsory Shakespeare courses in their English letters programs. All in all, presumably the students of the other 48 universities will have compassion for themselves and turn their situation around with abundant elective studies on Shakespeare.

Be that as it may, if some are foolish in wanting to continue teaching in US schools the biblical story of creation as a specific and real fact and refuse to give credence to the concepts of the evolution of species, there is ample space for the controversy surrounding the teaching of Shakespeare. And in the understanding that there should be room for all, it is clear that the Shakespearean work, with all the weight of the moment and the context in which it was written, is a monument to human creativity that, like others from different eras, and places, deserves to be known, taught, preserved and enjoyed. 

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