“A sailor’s wife had chestnuts in her lap and munch’d and munch’d and munch’d…” (Macbeth)
Yup. I still remember that line more than 30 years later. I have actually quoted it, maybe twice, to entertain my students when we were talking in my classroom about using emotions to help the memory process.
I think, though, I spend almost a month learning Shakespeare. So – was it worth it for nearly 30 seconds of “fame” more than 30 years later? Well – I had fun. I really don’t give it too much thought. Come to think of it – I studied Macbeth, King Lear, Hamlet.. and I think a couple more of Shakespeare’s works.
I also remember failing my first essay I had to write at University. I didn’t know how to research, or cite my sources, or paragraph properly.
As a graduate of the secondary school system in Ontario in 1982, I didn’t know the difference between the Progressive Conservatives (so called in those days) and the Liberals, and the NDP. I did not know what the United Nations was, nor NATO, nor the difference between a President and a Prime Minister. But the most stunning ignorance of all was the fact that I had no idea who wrote the “curriculum” that dictated what content was to be taught and how it was to be taught.
Each time a new government comes into power, the curriculum is changed. Education is the most important political tool that exists. A government that is right wing will opt to provide material that promotes right wing philosophies. A government that is left wing will likely provide curriculum that promotes left wing philosophies. At least – that is what makes sense to me. I suppose that is natural and a good way to instill political values into youth at an early age.
What is criminal, however, is that students may not be given the tools to understand curriculum can be a political tool. As long as they are able to understand that what they are learning is the decision of a particular government, then they are forewarned and forearmed. They are then able to learn “content” and take it with a grain of salt.
There is nothing I love better than to teach students to be thinkers and to challenge what they are learning. I love watching them when they have an “enlightened” understanding which gives them permission to form their own opinions and to think outside the box. Teaching students that the content of the curriculum is purposefully selected and filtered according to what governments of the day feel students should be learning for a “better society” is so critically important. What one government feels is needed at the time, may differ from another. At one time, outdoor and environmental education was dropped in favour of a more robust business-oriented education. And now – the environment is back in vogue.
So – where does Shakespeare fit in to the grand scheme of things when students struggle to make ends meet? Just asking.
I love that the secondary English curriculum indicates it will prepare students to be “literate” and active (global) citizens and prepare their skills for the workplace or higher education (according to the actual course he/she is taking). In any case, is it maybe time to really focus on these few basic goals – instead of Shakespeare and spelling.
Do you remember having a really meaningful discussion about literacy? One of the first questions we need to ask our students in the Ontario Literacy Course is “what does it mean to be literate?” If the goal is to create literate citizens – then it is vital to first define what literacy really means – and in multiple contexts including Nigeria, Cuba, and Afghanistan. The topic of literacy is so rich that it could be a course all on its own.
The fundamentals of the English program today must include not only reading and writing – but also critical thinking. We need to take a good hard look at how to filter good research sources from bad, how to determine “truth” and “values”, and finally, to understand and appreciate one another’s differences.
Why not teach about current events in English? Why not teach geography, history, or even science for that matter in the English program? Of course it is possible. While we are at it – why not go the route of cross-curricular teaching and partner English with EVERY subject.
Let pure English, yes literature, exist in a course called, “Literature”? Why not allow students to simply enjoy poetry and literature?
Just a thought. curr