The Bard vs. the betterment of education

It’s time for our school curriculum to loosen its grip on Shakespeare.

Sophia Sandhu, Copy Editor

Shakespeare. Plays. Poetry. Iambic pentameter. These words are typically followed by a collective sigh from most students in their English classes, and the tradition continues not once, but three times throughout high school: Romeo and Juliet freshman year, Macbeth sophomore year and Hamlet senior year. Some years there are gaps, but you get the gist: that’s three times students are exposed to a single author. Who else gets that kind of special treatment? No one. I’m not trying to bag on Shakespeare, he is a valuable part of our curriculum, but I do think that it’s time to shake things up and introduce some new faces, and races, to the English party. Before we start, I think it’s important to remember why Shakespeare is part of our curriculum in the first place. 

“His plays speak to the human condition and what it means to be a human partaking in this crazy thing we call life,” AP Literature teacher Amanda Carlisle explained. “They are about love, power, hope, desperation, winning and losing.” 

In simple terms, Shakespeare’s plays contain themes that are timeless. They stand the test of time because the characters experience fundamental human emotions and complications that nearly everyone can relate to. English teacher Deborah Brincks holds this to be true as well.

“The traditional classics are usually considered classics for good reason.”

Shakespeare’s plays may seem too dated to be relevant, but our teachers know better than to make us read his work for no good reason. For example, Macbeth is meant to be read during sophomore year because of the parallels it shares with the World History curriculum, a class sophomores primarily take. Hamlet is meant to be read by seniors because Hamlet himself is experiencing a coming of age much like high school seniors are. 

“Seniors are on the cusp of becoming the people they want to be. So when Hamlet asks, ‘To be or not to be,’ I believe that that’s a question that seniors are asking themselves right now,” Carlisle elaborated. 

As you can see, Shakespeare’s themes can be interpreted differently depending on the time of our lives we are in, which is ultimately why we are faced with him year after year. However, why we have to read Romeo and Juliet during our freshman year is still unclear to me. Maybe freshmen are prone to traumatic dating situations… 

It’s also important to understand the sheer impact Shakespeare has made in the world of literature. He was truly the first of his kind which has inevitably classified him as a pioneer in his craft. 

“So many artists have been inspired by Shakespeare, and there are threads that connect our culture that originate from him. That is also why so much time is spent getting to know him,” Carlisle clarified. 

There is no doubt that Shakespeare is meant to be part of our high school curriculum, but the times are changing. We are finally starting to understand the importance of diversity in all walks of life. In schools, this means diversifying our curriculum to involve more authors that aren’t simply “old white guys.” It’s time for Shakespeare to share some of the spotlight that he has so selfishly hogged for the past 500 years. 

“It’s not fair to focus only on white, male authors. There are probably so many playwrights out there that are just as good and maybe even better than Shakespeare who are people of color or who are women,” senior Sanjana Narang declared. “I don’t think students have ever read plays of such people.”

Instead of deleting Shakespeare altogether, we should replace one or two of his three plays with work by authors that are up-to-date with the time. If you ask me, I think he could spare a couple of books for the sake of representation. Representation that will change high school education for the better.

“Giving representation to people of color at school is really important because seeing these authors praised for their contributions to literature is very inspirational to a lot of students who have been underrepresented,” Narang exclaimed. 

Students need to be able to see themselves and their experiences in the texts that we read because it empowers them to push the boundaries of society’s norms. To break the glass ceiling and create new standards that are not so closed-minded. 

“I think it’s important to read authors from different backgrounds, colors, races and creeds because that is the essence of humanity,” Carlisle concluded.

It’s essential that all students are seen so that they are inspired to become the communicators of tomorrow. We are the future, and now is a better time than ever to make it ours. However, the process is a slow one. A total revamp to the curriculum does not happen overnight. Teachers like Carlisle and Brincks want to see changes, but they are subject to a little thing called the CUSD School Board, and getting books approved by them is a complicated process.

Nonetheless, what matters now is that the ball has started rolling. The realization has been made. For now, all we can do is appreciate the curriculum that we have and continue to fight for the one we hope for.