A recent report says more and more American teachers are refusing to teach William Shakespeare in their classrooms, citing alleged racism and intolerance.
According to the January issue of School Library Journal, Amanda MacGregor, a Minnesota-based librarian, bookseller, and freelance journalist “asked why teachers were continuing to include Shakespeare in their classrooms,” the Daily Mail reported.
“‘Shakespeare’s works are full of problematic, outdated ideas, with plenty of misogyny, racism, homophobia, classism, anti-Semitism and misogynoir,’ she wrote, with the last word referring to a hatred of black women.”
Among those who have refused to teach is Claire Bruncke, who taught English at Ilwaco High School in Washington state. “I asked my principal if there was a requirement for how much Shakespeare I needed to cover,” she said, according to the Mail.
She said she was told if she taught the “standards,” she’d be fine, so she dropped Shakespeare completely.
“My students’ positive response to this work solidified my decision,” she said.
Another teacher, Liz Matthews, who teaches ninth-grade English at Hartford Public High School in Connecticut — where the student body is 95% black or Hispanic — said she bailed on Shakespeare and replaced him with works by minority authors.
“I replaced Romeo and Juliet with The House On Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros last year, and Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds this year,” she said. “Romeo and Juliet” was first published in 1597, while “The House on Mango Street” was published in 1984 and “Long Way Down” was published in 2017.
“Simply put, the authors and characters of the two new books look and sound like my students, and they can make realistic connections,” Matthews said. “Representation matters.”
But the Mail said some teachers are making efforts to put Shakespeare in modern context:
Sarah Mulhern Gross, who teaches ninth and twelfth grade English at High Technology High School in Lindcroft, New Jersey, said that she taught Romeo and Juliet “through the lens of adolescent brain development with a side of toxic masculinity analysis.”
Adriana Adame, who teaches students in Texas who have been through trauma, said that she used Hamlet to discuss coping mechanisms and grief. Elizabeth Neilson, who teaches at the Twin Cities Academy in Minnesota, said she used Coriolanus to discuss Marxist theory.
Still others said Shakespeare can be studied so long as other authors dealing with more modern themes are read as well.
Ayanna Thompson, professor of English at Arizona State University and president of the Shakespeare Association of America, recommended combining Shakespeare with authors like Toni Morrison, August Wilson, W.E.B. Du Bois, and James Baldwin, among others.
“There are rich global perspectives from which Shakespeare can be approached, taught, and analyzed,” she said.
But Lorena German, National Council of Teachers of English Anti-Racism Committee chair and a co-founder of the Disrupt Texts forum, said Shakespeare should be ditched.
“I want to offer what to read INSTEAD of Shakespeare,” German told the Mail. “Trust me, your kids will be fine if they don’t read him. Everything about the fact that he was a man of his time is problematic about his plays. We cannot teach Shakespeare responsibly and not disrupt the ways people are characterized and developed.”
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