Friday, August 07, 2009

And Sometimes, Just Sometimes, The Teacher Is An Idiot

I link this article on “Shakespeare and Texting” not because it is a new or useful idea (it is neither), but because of this quote:

"The language is terrible," said RayLene Dysert, who teaches freshmen composition at West Texas A&M University and led a recent workshop on teaching Shakespeare for high school teachers.

That pains me in so many ways I can’t begin to tell you, but I’ll give it a shot.

If you think that the language of Shakespeare is terrible you probably shouldn’t be teaching it, don’t ya think?  Much less teaching other teachers how to teach it?  Really??

Listen.  It’s really not that hard to understand.  Shakespeare is neither play nor poetry – it is both, simultaneously.  Yes, it is complex, but that is precisely why you can’t separate them.  Anybody could have written the plot of Romeo and Juliet (as we all know, Shakespeare didn’t invent most of his plots).  It’s *how* he wrote it that makes it genius.  I think that’s the word you were going for when your word processor swapped it out for “terrible”.

If you want to keep just the play, fine, rewrite it.  But it’s no longer poetry, and it’s no longer Shakespeare, so don’t call it that and don’t claim that you made it easier.  I can make math easier by getting rid of all numbers greater than 10, too, but that’s not doing my students any favors.

And if you do insist on doing that?  You know, because it’s too hard?  Please do me and your students a favor and get rid of all studying of all poetry in all forms.  Who cares whether Robert Frost was writing about thoughts of suicide in Stopping By Woods?  Forget Edgar Allen Poe, let’s have Stephen King.  Truth is beauty and beauty truth, and that is all I know on Earth and all I need to know? W TF does that even mean?  Poetry has no purpose, after all.  It’s hard.  Why do they insist on using strange words that I myself don’t use on a daily basis, and why do they order them in unusual ways that I myself would not order them?  That’s stupid.  Everybody should talk like everybody else, that’s the only thing that makes sense.  People who don’t talk like me are stupid, after all.  That’s the only lesson to learn, is that the world revolves around me, and if something is different from how I do it?  Then it is broken until somebody else fixes it for me.


Bill said...

Whoa... easy, Duane. If you read on, she is having her students read the text in the original language, and then even has them read it again to fully appreciate it.

If I had to guess, I'd say the quote was taken out of context or just completely mangled by a careless reporter looking for a powerful soundbite.

Duane said...

I still contend that the statement is idiotic, but we'll leave it open as a bad quote.

It begs the question - if this teacher has something even close to resembling that opinion, then why does she make them read the play three times? That sounds like a variation on the old broccoli method, "I know it tastes terrible but it's good for you so just eat it. Eventually you'll like it."
Why doesn't she approach it with something a bit more optimistic?

I wonder if maybe the answer is something in between the two extremes. It's important to hear Polinius' "To thine own self be true", I think, but it's little more than a plot point to see him later send a spy after Laertes. Take a given play and look at just the most famous scenes as is - the fight, the balcony scene, Mercutio's death, the climax (for example). Fill in the rest as if you would a typical plot summary, doing away with the poetry aspects. Leave the best stuff alone. I'd rather a student have 40% of an accurate Shakespeare play than 100% of a txtified LOLspeak rapping version.

Duane said...

And by Polinius of course I meant Polonius. Silly typos. I'll just start calling him Corambis and throwing everybody off.

Bill said...

Well, I'm saying the quote is probably out of context or just plain wrong, meaning that I don't believe that she actually holds that opinion. What she actually said is anybody's guess. Here are some possibilities:

"Every year students complain to me about Shakespeare: the language is terrible, I don't understand it, it's boring, etc. But once they've really delved into it, they actually come to appreciate it."

"The language is terribly difficult to understand the first time you're exposed to it."

"Each year I'm always surprised at my new batch of students. They have no manners, the language is terrible, they have no attention span. And I think that what these students need is some Shakespeare."

"There are so many barriers between Shakespeare and today's audience - there are cultural allusions we don't get, the language is terrible to a modern ear, there are words used differently than they are today - so we really have an uphill battle in getting students to understand the value of it."

"I think it's important for students to put Shakespeare on its feet and act out the scenes. Of course, the first attempts to do so have mixed results. Students don't know where to stand, the language is terrible, you can't hear them, etc. But after a few attempts, they can really create some wonderful moments on stage."

And so on and so forth.

Bill said...

Oh, and you'll notice that nobody in the article, except for the author, actually suggests that Shakespeare should be translated into text-speak.

JM said...

Like you Duane, this guy floats around Shakespeare sites--but not for the same reason. He minimizes the importance of Shakespeare--as written, while lauding and marketing his own "translations".
Someone who insists that Shakespeare's language is "too difficult", he's done several of these "translations" into "more friendly" language to teach our students. A professor at California State; Mr. Kent Richmond advocates Shakespeare in Mr. Kent Richmond's language. He has a publisher and has reviewed Shakespeare editions for Amazon (with reference to his own "versions", of course). I was involved in a quite lengthy discussion with him over at the Bard Blog several months ago, when he made an attempt to market his work--which isn't bad in itself-- the purpose however, in my opinion, is somewhat questionable, to say the least.(I'm being very nice)
It seems he would have us forget Shakespeare as is. I never got an answer to my question asking WHEN he would advocate that students put down his versions and take up actual SHAKESPEARE. Google his name--he seems to be getting to be quite popular.
Best, Willshill

Gedaly said...

I found a quotation from a teacher that worried me more...

"If we could Twitter Julius Caesar, we'd be good."