Erasmus plays with legos, drawing by John Lithgow

Great news! My book will be published by Routledge Press in Oxford, England. I’m thrilled. It was my first choice of a publisher from the very beginning. It will be published under the title: “Lessons for Today from Shakespeare’s Classroom: The Cognitive Benefits of Drama and Rhetoric in Schools,” I’ve just signed the contract and will keep my readers informed about the publication date, but that should be within 18 months. In the meantime, I’ll start posting more regularly.

I hope “Lessons for Today….”  will be in the library and bookstore of every college and university in England and the U.S. training teachers in the humanities, Fingers crossed!

For a teaser, here is the Introduction:

My years in education have convinced me that performing arts, storytelling, and creative language should be at the core of education. We need more of them in our schools. A great deal more. Every day. This is not because we need more actors, dancers, musicians, and writers but because we need smarter, more thoughtful citizens. We need nimble thinkers with the mental flexibility to process the daily onslaught of information provided to us in the age of the Internet. We need a population of adults for whom creative and critical thinking comes instinctively. We need to think about the education of children the way Desiderius Erasmus did six hundred years ago, when he was helping to construct the foundations of humanism and design the curriculum enjoyed by William Shakespeare’s entire generation, elements of which still resonate today. For the humanists, the education of children was for the benefit of the commonwealth, and the curriculum they designed was far richer in the arts than has been commonly realized.

In this book we will examine two relatively short spans of time during which unimaginable changes occurred: the Reformation and the dawning of modern English language and literature. What if we could wave a magic wand and make the radical changes I would like to see in public education in the post-pandemic generation, reflecting on what we know now about how education can develop wise and healthy adults? Just as the Renaissance emerged after the Black Plague, there will soon be new cultural models that may give us an opportunity to rethink old norms. One area that is ripe for renewal is the evaluation of educational programs. My fervent hope is that the era of drill-and-kill test preparation is ending, and that the arts will lead in a new look at assessment that is authentic and supportive of life-long learning.

There were three igniting realizations that set my course as I began this journey. First was learning that two of Shakespeare’s teachers were students of Richard Mulcaster, headmaster of the Merchant Taylors’ School in London, who was influenced by the early humanists and was famous for his use of drama in the classroom. The second was the common practice of students performing colloquies (brief scripted scenes) for practice in Latin. Finally it was learning about the artistry of dramatic language that was nurtured by the centuries-old study of rhetoric, or the “art of speaking well.” Colloquial (conversational) language and rhetorical (elevated) language were partners in Shakespeare’s education. Both involved dramatic presentation, and both contributed to the cognitive brilliance of the age.

If humanist education in Shakespeare’s day in any way produced smarter and more more flexible thinkers, more discerning minds, and more intelligent citizens (and it will be obvious that I believe it did), it is worth our effort to identify what elements of that education could be simulated in schools today, with a particular examination of the arts of performance.