My grand and ambitious purpose in writing this book was to change the focus of education from “for the benefit of test scores” to “for the benefit of the commonwealth,” and to make it stick by promoting joy.

To quote from the conclusion:

My plea to everyone concerned about the physical and emotional health of young people in this post-pandemic, digital age (and I 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 or 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.

The jabs of my small spear in this effort are just barely beginning to be felt by the policy makers, but you, my readers, can help by spreading the word.

Last week Susan Cambigue Tracey, of the Music Center’s Education Division, generously hosted my first reading, and we had great fun featuring performances of some of Erasmus’ hilarious colloquies. Colloquies were short scripted playlets used in schools to teach the important art of conversational (as opposed to classical) Latin. Both classical and conversational (colloquial) were taught intentionally in the Latin grammar schools that Shakespeare and thousands of his peers attended. Latin was the lingua franca of businessmen, clergymen, lawyers, ambassadors, and other travelers on the continent In the 16th century. Travelers had to be able to chat, joke, and negotiate with their peers all over Europe. Classical Latin was for the university. Colloquial Latin was for business.

And colloquial Latin was very much in Erasmus’ realm. Talk about joy in learning! Erasmus invented it!

If you think about your school years, all of the most memorable learning moments were probably accompanied by either pain or joy. My aim is to diminish the power of pain in learning and elevate the power of laugher and joy. I stand with Erasmus on that.




My book is finally coming out and can be pre-ordered as of December 9. I’m so pleased and excited! The release date will be after December 30, so not quite in time for the holidays, but it will be a great gift for the new year. It’s a fun and informative read for educators and parents who are passionate about empowering learning through the inclusion of the performing arts in every aspect of schooling.

My brother John Lithgow did the art work for the cover and a drawing for each chapter. The project was a family affair.

I couldn’t be more pleased with the Routledge Publishing. The whole process has been a joy, from the enthusiasm of their first readers to the support from their editors all along the way. Every first time author should be so lucky!

This book will contribute to the vibrant conversation among educators about renewing arts-rich curriculum in our schools. Follow the link here to order your own copy and share with others.


















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.