“Lord, What Fools These Mortals Be.” – What Shakespeare Teaches Us About Education Reform

400 years since he died. Four centuries. Multiple generations. New countries discovered.

And we still read his work and revere it as a mirror of human nature.

shakespeare

There is a bit of a revival taking place in some schools involving Shakespeare. The Common Core asks that student in each grade level come engage with Shakespeare in their English/Language Arts classes. Many high schools in North Carolina teach a Shakespeare elective (which is very popular in my own school).

But why does he still resonate with new generations? Simple. Shakespeare literally provides us with a blueprint for the human condition and the nature of men and women.

And I think the Bard would have much to say about our treatment of public education here in North Carolina, whose own capital was named for a man who was favored one time by the very woman who patronized Shakespeare.

In fact, he already has made statements very relevant to our state and, frankly, the entire nation.

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

Cassius, he of the “lean and hungry” look, says this to Brutus in Julius Caesar. And while many may know that this gives rise to the title of the John Green book, it makes reference to the Elizabethan tendency to look at astrology and numerology for guidance.

It also talks of taking responsibility for your actions and how those actions may affect others.

Consider the effects of “re-forms” initiated by business groups, billionaires, and legislators like unregulated charter schools and vouchers that have siphoned public monies from the very students who rely upon traditional public schools. When will they learn that these initiatives do not work and have never worked? Will they take responsibility for their failures or blame the stars?

“Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.” 

These lines are from Twelfth Night spoken by Malvolio while reading a letter meant as a practical joke to feed his narcissism and fragile ego. However, there is so much truth in these words.

Think about how we as a society define “greatness,” yet remember that each person is free to interpret “greatness” in his/her own way. But the operative word in this quote is “achieve.” And there is no limit to what a student can achieve if our schools are properly funded and our teachers are supported by government officials. And just imagine how greatness would be defined.

“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” 

The Countess in All’s Well That Ends Well says this to her son. If only our legislators and lawmakers all took this to heart. It would seem appropriate to also include Polonius’s words to his son Laertes in Hamlet, “To thine own self be true.” But Polonius’s motives throughout the play show that he really is nothing more than a government official bent on maintaining power and bending precedent.

“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” 

This is said by Touchstone, the court jester in the Arden Woods in As You Like It. What’s appropriate here is that it is the fool talking about a fool. It would be refreshing to think that those in power would even admit that their actions could actually be foolish and hurtful.

So many in Raleigh have been so dead set on their “solutions” (think Achievement School Districts) that they foolishly ignore what history has taught us.

“We know what we are, but not what we may be.”

As Ophelia’s madness starts to set in during the last part of Hamlet, she says this poignant quote to Claudius, who as a man in power has literally kept others from realizing their potential. Claudius is so busy with the past and the immediate present that he does not realize that he is sacrificing the future for all in his kingdom.

Sound familiar?

“If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”

This is from Shylock’s astounding monologue from Merchant of Venice as he explains that he as a Jew is discriminated against and that as a human he not treated as equally as others.

Considering that we have private schools which take Opportunity Grant monies and have admissions policies that do not allow for equal opportunity and that we also have a law on the books called HB2, Shylock’s words are still so applicable.

“Go wisely and slowly. Those who rush stumble and fall.”

Friar Laurence, a man of great intentions doomed by the fact that he is in a tragic play (Romeo & Juliet), says this to Romeo trying to teach him that rushing into actions without proper vetting can lead to mistakes and irreparable damage.

Again, sound familiar?

“Ignorance is the curse of God; knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven.”

A character named Saye “says” this in Henry VI, Part 2 which is not read by many people but was a popular play of Shakespeare’s while he lived.

Think about how much could have been saved if our lawmakers really researched their “re-forming” efforts before rashly enacting them.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

If you read Romeo & Juliet closely, you will see that Juliet is the intellectual one of the two. And she is right with this quote on so many levels. Calling NC’s “Opportunity Grants” as a road to provide quality education doesn’t change the fact that they are weak vouchers. Calling charter schools “public schools” doesn’t change that fact that they act under a different set of rules than traditional schools. Calling the new Achievement School District a means to fix failing schools doesn’t change the fact that it is a movement to privatize public education.

That “rose” still smells.

“Lord, what fools these mortals be.”

Robin Goodfellow, otherwise known as Puck, the henchman for the king of the fairies (Oberon), makes this poignant observation while watching the hilarious circus of humans in the forest during Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Makes you wonder how we will see these reform efforts and their effects when all of this is said and done.

But if you really understand Shakespeare, you know that his plays were so accessible to all Elizabethan people, especially those in the working classes and those who were not given opportunities to receive schooling. He spoke to all people.

Quality public schooling should be as accessible as Shakespeare was and still is.

3 thoughts on ““Lord, What Fools These Mortals Be.” – What Shakespeare Teaches Us About Education Reform

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