I haven’t posted in awhile, but the work continues. The two publishers who “absolutely loved” my book last year, but whose editorial teams passed on it, have both agreed to let me submit a revised version that will convince them of its currency and topicality. I’ve been hard at work on that. The working title now is “Good Behavior and Audacity: Performing Arts Lessons from Shakespeare’s Classroom.” Fingers crossed they’ll be able to convince their teams that students in this post-pandemic era NEED the performing arts!!!! and that their teachers need this book. If they don’t agree, I’ll continue with my plan to self-publish with the wonderful Precocity Press.
I thought I’d post some parts of the book once in awhile, to see if I get any feedback. To start at the end, here is the conclusion, after eleven chapters.
Here I have addressed my concern about the state of education today by looking to the past. In so doing I’ve had to wrestle a simple story out of one that has been obscured by complexity. How does one find a clear pathway between two vastly different worlds? The education of children and adolescents in Shakespeare’s day was entirely in Latin. It was based on the ancient Trivium of grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Its focus in literature was on the Greek and Roman classics. It was for propertied boys only. It relied on corporal punishment for discipline. It was emerging from centuries when it was conducted almost entirely, orally, through what Erasmus described as “the endless tedium of memorization.” It was so vastly different from conditions now, how can we possibly find a linking thread? How does one see an arc of complex pedagogical issues clearly through the circuitous windings of time? The answer lies in something left out of this grim list: fun!
These were boys, after all! Goofy, playful boys! And as it turns out, Erasmus knew a lot about the antics of boys from his own experience of being one. In all of his voluminous writings about education, he emphasized the importance of pleasure, and Mulcaster, as we have seen, agreed with him. Erasmus believed it was possible for children to enjoy learning. I know Shakespeare made fun of his education, and we have “the whining schoolboy” of his Seven Ages of Man soliloquy in As You Like It to thank for the common conviction that he hated school. I don’t believe it. I think he had a great time at Stratford Latin Grammar School, and his rigorous education there prepared him well for his career as the most entertaining poet and dramatist in our history.
In Elizabethan schools, a huge part of the pleasure students enjoyed was due to the vibrant presence of the performing arts. It is so deeply embedded in the history of humanist education that it has often gone unnoticed. When you are able to brush away the clouds you can see that students at that time were engaging daily in the artful presentation of elegant language and the performance of dance, music, and drama. Instruction in music is listed in all the statutes, and dance was taught with music. Per the existing statutes of schools in England, performance of plays by Terence, Plautus, and Seneca were regular fare, as were, of course, the humble colloquies. I have endeavored to reveal here my conviction that that active, engaged involvement in presentation led to the emergence of an age of creative minds and cognitive brilliance.
Desiderius Erasmus was my guide in this. The more you read of him the more you realize that his genius was to see things clearly. Fortunately he makes it easy by being such an engaging and humorous thinker. When I first read his colloquies, what jumped out for me was the laughter, and the more I searched the more I found a mind that was finely attuned to the ways that we humans learn.
My plea to everyone concerned about the physical and emotional health of young people in this post-pandemic, digital age (and I would hope that is everyone) is to make room for joy in our schools. Not just joy in play: joy in learning. My greatest hope as an educator is that the era of drill, kill, test, and repeat will end. If you think “kill” is too strong a word in the context of educating children, consider that one can kill enthusiasm. One can kill exploration, motivation, and joy. The testing industry has made a fortune off of our innocent kids. It’s time for a re-examination of the purposes and parameters of standardized testing, opting instead for authentic assessment that is supportive of growth.
We are living through unprecedented times of both anxiety and possibility. It is stressful, and the stress is evident in our children. We should be making the relief and redirection of that stress our top priority. Our children and our young adults need to be heard. They need more drama on the stage than in real life. They need to be witnessed. They need ways to contain and redirect their wildest emotional searchings. They may need to cry, and they absolutely need to laugh. They need to express themselves, to define, process, and verbalize their concerns. They need a safe place to explore the outer reaches of emotion and experience that illuminates their own humanity. They need the arts!