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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: December ::
Re: Are they too stupid??
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2783  Saturday, 10 December 2001

[1]     From:   Andrew Walker White <
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        Date:   Friday, 7 Dec 2001 14:02:57 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2776 Are they too stupid??

[2]     From:   Sam Small <
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        Date:   Friday, 7 Dec 2001 19:27:15 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2776 Are they too stupid??

[3]     From:   Richard Regan <
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        Date:   Friday, 07 Dec 2001 14:53:49 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2776 Are they too stupid??

[4]     From:   Ruth Ross <
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        Date:   Friday, 7 Dec 2001 16:58:47 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 12.2776 Are they too stupid??

[5]     From:   Harry Hill <
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        Date:   Friday, 7 Dec 2001 20:13:17 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2776 Are they too stupid??

[6]     From:   Kezia Vanmeter Sproat <
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        Date:   Friday, 7 Dec 2001 23:32:59 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2776 Are they too stupid??

[7]     From:   Mari Bonomi <
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        Date:   Sunday, 9 Dec 2001 09:42:26 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2776 Are they too stupid??

[8]     From:   Edward Pixley <
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        Date:   Sunday, 09 Dec 2001 09:52:20 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2776 Are they too stupid??


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andrew Walker White <
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Date:           Friday, 7 Dec 2001 14:02:57 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 12.2776 Are they too stupid??
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2776 Are they too stupid??

By all means, use Hamlet -- we use him occasionally in an "Introduction
to Theatre" class here at the University of Maryland, College Park.  So
long as you ground it in what you believe to be the most important
aspects of the play and its plot, they will get something out of it.

Keep in mind, however, that Hamlet and Macbeth are probably the most
easily plagiarized paper subjects in the English-speaking world.  You
might want to force your students into doing something original -- and
by sheer coincidence, fun -- by having them stage certain pivotal scenes
themselves.  Give them a topic for writing that is creative, not
'thematic.'  Of course, if you're doing your thesis on them, chances are
you'll catch half their sources should they decide to crib.

And I wouldn't be surprised if that condescending proof would contrast
"kids these days" and their ignorance with his own generation's innate
wisdom.  Proof that you can be educated, but terminally stupid about
young people.

Andy White

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sam Small <
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Date:           Friday, 7 Dec 2001 19:27:15 -0000
Subject: 12.2776 Are they too stupid??
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2776 Are they too stupid??

I have expressed views on this topic before but will recount then for Ms
Eppich-Harris' perusal and for those others who care to.  It's not that
teenagers are too stupid to understand these plays, it is because they
are too immature.  Again that is not to say that the occasional 17 year
old won't get it, but in general no-one should go near Shakespeare until
they are 30, had a broken heart, or become tired of drunken parties -
whichever comes first.  It has been said that Shakespeare's works are
the greatest artistic contribution by one person in the history of man.
To lay two of the most profound of these works at the feet of people
barely out of childhood is a little unfair, to say the least.  When the
question arises on this list "What is Hamlet all about?" there is never
the slightest agreement or even consensus.  How do we expect adolescents
to do better?  If great art is a product of great living what can we
possibly expect of teenagers still at school?  Plotlines, character,
character relationships, historical backgrounds etc. are easy to tease
out, but the grand subtext is most certainly not.  There are a thousand
other fine writers teachers can draw upon - and yes, some fine American
writers, too - so why not  look around?

I would say to those teachers who claim that they successfully
incorporate Shakespeare's works in their English syllabus - don't write
anecdotal reports about how "my students were so profoundly affected";
that Mariannejane sat on the edge of the stage sobbing; and that "Miss X
is a perfectly darling teacher" - let us all see many unassisted essay
extracts from these students to see how deeply they understand.  I won't
hold my breath.

SAM SMALL

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Richard Regan <
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Date:           Friday, 07 Dec 2001 14:53:49 EST
Subject: 12.2776 Are they too stupid??
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2776 Are they too stupid??

In our Introduction to Literature course, the second half of 1st year
English, I use a Shakespeare play as the research topic each year,
alternating Taming of the Shrew, Midsummer Night's Dream, and Twelfth
Night. I put about 20 books on reserve, and guide their research steps
closely after we study the play for 2 weeks, using videotaped
performance liberally. Students are quite capable of such a project.

Richard Regan
Fairfield University

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ruth Ross <
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Date:           Friday, 7 Dec 2001 16:58:47 -0500
Subject: 12.2776 Are they too stupid??
Comment:        RE: SHK 12.2776 Are they too stupid??

Marcia,

I grant that high school students often glaze over when confronted with
Shakespeare...but that's because the teacher often stands up there and
tells them what Shakespeare "means." I teach Macbeth to h.s. seniors
(average ability) and stress that Shakespeare wrote the play to be
performed, not read. So we look at some of the techniques he used to
"hook" his audience, which consisted of educated gentlemen AND
uneducated groundlings...who "got it." Then, once we have the plot down
pat, we look at the kinds of people who populate these universes and try
to identify similar personalities in modern life (situations too). They
are especially fascinated by the equivocation that runs through the
play, the way the universe is turned inside out and upside down and
start to look for examples in the play. If you tell them they can handle
this, they'll rise to the occasion.  Unfortunately, I can't recommend a
really good film version of "Macbeth," but several versions of "Hamlet"
abound and the students could compare say, Mel Gibson to Kenneth
Branagh.  The Roman Polanski "Macbeth" is bloody and sexy. Also, there's
an interesting film called "Men of Respect" that's a Mafia Macbeth
(ditto "Joe Macbeth"). That could be fun. Don't back off because the
students may find Shakespeare a challenge. Isn't that what education's
all about? By the way, "education" comes from the Latin "educare"
meaning "to draw out," not "pour in." Check out Louise Rosenblatt's
theory of reader response; no longer does the teacher have to be the
keeper of the meaning. Put the onus on your students and you'll be
surprised at what they can do.

Good luck,
Ruth Ross

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Harry Hill <
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Date:           Friday, 7 Dec 2001 20:13:17 EST
Subject: 12.2776 Are they too stupid??
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2776 Are they too stupid??

Dear Marcia Eppich-Harris:

The students are by no means stupid. Their parents and society were by
sending them to "college" when they would have been happier and more
useful in trade school.

Harry Hill

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kezia Vanmeter Sproat <
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Date:           Friday, 7 Dec 2001 23:32:59 EST
Subject: 12.2776 Are they too stupid??
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2776 Are they too stupid??

Marcia, they are not too stupid. You ran into an ancient and pervasive
sad problem of new-minted and old rotten English teachers, which is to
blab down students as stupid, a defense mechanism to cover their own
inadequacies (and we all have inadequacies) as teachers. The best course
I ever taught was like the one you propose, except that we read several
plays. It started with a bang. I asked the class of about 30 to count
off in threes and told each group to perform the first 14 lines of
Hamlet the next day. Any way they liked. Just do it. Did they moan?
Sure. Did they perform? Yes. It was absolutely glorious. Writing is
about relating to other people through paper and ink. There's no better
way to teach writing, I think. Good for you!

Kezia Vanmeter Sproat

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mari Bonomi <
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Date:           Sunday, 9 Dec 2001 09:42:26 -0500
Subject: 12.2776 Are they too stupid??
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2776 Are they too stupid??

Marcia Eppich-Harris writes about using Shakespeare in her college
classroom that it would be "fun for me and worthwhile to them to take
another look at Shakespeare in an environment that promotes learning,
understanding, and serious study - instead of in high school."

Ummm... don't know about the high school she went to, but at the high
school I went to all those decades ago AND the one I've been teaching in
almost all the decades since, we have always worked to create an
atmosphere that promotes learning, understanding and serious study.  I
would aver that the same is true for virtually all my high school
teaching colleagues on this list, and for most of my colleagues
throughout the United States, including Indiana where apparently the
state sets a curriculum designed for serious study by requiring that
Shakespeare be part of it.

In my school every student has the opportunity to learn, study and
understand a lot of academic things including Shakespeare... and guess
what?  They DO!  They learn... they study... and they even understand!
And you know what? I have fun facilitating that process!!

So tell your colleague the Lecturer that he misjudges young people
(Perhaps out of an inflated sense of his own self-worth?).  And please,
correct your impression of the difference between college and high
school.  I hear enough first-person stories about the 100-student
lecture classes, inept graduate assistants in discussion groups,
virtually empty-of-student libraries and Thurs-Sun drinking and pot
parties on many of the most exclusive campuses as well as at the state
colleges and universities to know that the environment in too many
dormitories and classrooms on too many campuses does absolutely nothing
for "learning, understanding, and serious study."  I also know that
those stories need to be taken at times with a shaker full of salt :)

*bristling with indignation at the implied slight to her teaching
expectations* <grin>

Mari Bonomi

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edward Pixley <
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Date:           Sunday, 09 Dec 2001 09:52:20 -0500
Subject: 12.2776 Are they too stupid??
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2776 Are they too stupid??

Dear Ms. Eppich-Harris:

After two years of teaching Freshman comp (about 40 years ago) and
getting the required research paper on everything from the causes of the
French revolution to the newly-discovered DNA, I decided to focus on
literature and have the students select their topics in areas in which I
had some expertise.  I have never looked back.  I think your choice is
admirable, and I think your students will learn far better from it than
they would from struggling to find topics about which they frequently
have only marginal interest, as well as limited access to resources that
they will know how to deal with.

One point to be aware of is that, because of your students' varied
interests, they may frequently wish to deal with Hamlet and Macbeth from
perspectives other than theatrical or literary.  Some may wish to come
at the play from the points of view of history, politics, psychology,
philosophy, family values, rhetoric, cosmology, spiritualism, etc.  Some
will find perspectives that neither of us anticipate.  Frankly, though I
would direct students toward topics that I was pursuing, I would
encourage the diversity that their own interests bring.  Besides helping
those students connect the drama to their own disciplines, you will find
surprising insights that your own approach to the plays might not yield.
As for your cynical colleague, his students will fulfill the "stupid"
expectations that he prophesies for them, and creative students will
avoid his classes in droves.  Hopefully, he will abandon the teaching
profession forthwith and go to work for "Dogbert."  They deserve each
other.

Ed Pixley

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