Some Canadian School Boards believe that with Shakespeare, less is more
Laura Melczer // Contributor
Multiple school boards across Canada have decided to change the English Literature curriculum for high school students.
School boards are substituting some of the classic novelists with more diverse authors, with a push for more Indigenous writings. The most controversial change in the curriculum is the reduction of William Shakespeare’s work. Shakespeare’s plays are classics for teaching about the arts and the English language, but Shakespeare wrote for an audience from the 1600’s, which can’t and doesn’t fully translate to students in classrooms across Canada today.
Ontario Superintendent of Education Mark Sherman put it plainly, “really, we’re talking about 15th century Veronese landlords [Romeo and Juliet] or something like that. Does that resonate with Canadian kids? Or the British schoolboy class structure?”
The joy of reading comes from reading stories with a variety of perspectives, so why are we asking teenagers to always read works that are based in the Elizabethan Era? Most high school students have been required to read many authors that fit into one category – the “Dead White Male” category, with many of the authors descending from Europe or America, would include authors like J.D. Salinger, George Orwell, William Golding, and Mark Twain.
This group of authors is unquestionably talented and have a number of books that are enjoyable and important to read, but there is an attitude of prioritizing British and American writers in the curriculum, and it deserves to be challenged. By putting these men on a literary pedestal, too many of their works are chosen for high school lesson plans, and not enough local and arguably as talented authors.
William Shakespeare can be highly entertaining to read and study. However, this decision to alter the curriculum surrounding Shakespeare’s works is the right avenue to take and would be beneficial to all high school students across the country.
Shakespeare has his place and his value within the classroom, but he isn’t the be all or end all of good literature. The style, content and language of Shakespeare’s plays don’t feel relevant enough to justify teaching one play each year. Educators are striving to find a better balance to what their students are reading.
So, it makes sense to have more Indigenous and diverse works (from more non-white and female authors) taught to students. Students need to learn and read material from a wide variety of authors. And through introducing more Canadian Indigenous authors, such as David Alexander Robertson, Martha Brooks and Melanie Florence, students will have the chance to read novels that they might connect with more, therefore increasing their interest and what they get out of an English course.
Shakespeare is the one writer within the public high school system that doesn’t seem to go anywhere. While it is worthwhile for all students to study Shakespeare, there is usually a very select group of students in the high school system who want to read that much Shakespeare. We need to stop making heart-eyes at Shakespeare and examine what other talented playwrights and authors could be brought into public schools to be taught hand in hand with Shakespeare.
By decreasing the amount of Shakespeare and other authors like him who are outdated and replacing them with Indigenous authors, high school English students will have a better, more expanded experience with literature. It will expose more students to many talented Indigenous authors that are sharing their stories. Incorporating a balanced mix of classic playwrights and contemporary authors allow for students to learn from work that speaks more to their experiences and their identities.