On a recent Nightline segment on Unschooling (ABC really likes this topic, it seems!), something the reporter mentioned stood out to me. Near the end of the segment (which featured the Martin family) she said: "What happens when the learning becomes more sophisticated and her kids need to be exposed to Shakespeare or Twain or Henry James?"
And that stuck with me. Because really, does anyone "need" to be exposed to Shakespeare? And by being exposed to Shakespeare in school, do the vast majority of public and private schoolers really develop a deep and abiding love for the famous playwright's work, or do they hate, dislike, or find absolutely useless and/or boring everything they're taught about the man and his writing?
Yes, I'm sure there are a very few who actually find Shakespeare, his life and work, to be fascinating, and love learning about him in school. But can anyone tell me that that's even remotely common?
I was big into poetry as a kid (I still do love poetry). I'd completely memorize poems that were pages long, and regularly my mother, sister, and I would pull out a book (or a few books) of poetry and take turns picking ones to read out loud, to share with each other. So I came across some of Shakespeare's poetry at a young age. However, none of it ever really appealed to me.
As for his plays, since popular culture is steeped in references to and spin-offs from his most famous plays, I knew the basic story to them, and read bits from a few childrens versions. But, as with his poetry, nothing ever particularly caught my interest.
Then, just a month or so ago (maybe a bit more), PBS was scheduled to air a production of Hamlet starring David Tennant, an actor whom I adore. So, along with Emilie and a friend, both of whom also happen to adore David Tennant, we settled down to watch.
And I was entranced. The archaic language was unsettling for a minute or two, but after that I became absorbed in the story, language, and truly incredible acting.
I was surprised at how many lines I recognized, and for the first time ever I really understood why Shakespeare was considered such a great writer. Despite the length (a whopping three hours) I was sad when it was over.
How could things have gone differently? Had I been forced to read and dissect Shakespeare's work, would I have been willing to even try watching the performance? And if I had, would I have enjoyed or appreciated it (the language and tragic intricacy of the story, the tortured character of Hamlet)?
Art, any art, should be enjoyed and interpreted by the individual, of their own free will. To force someone into "art appreciation", to drag someone to the theater, to force someone to dissect poetry or interpret a painting the way the teacher interprets it (or risk getting bad marks), is to kill art for that person, to kill what enjoyment they may have found in their own time.
Enjoyment and interpretation of art is a deeply personal thing, and it angers me when people try to take that away from children and teens.
So, please, let the kids discover Shakespeare (or not) on their own terms. If they never find joy in Shakespeare, I highly doubt that will negatively affect their life. But if they're force-fed Shakespeare against their will, I have no doubt that it will have a negative impact!