Imprimis: Links and Tidbits – 4 March 2011

Just a short little round-up this week, but some of them are pretty interesting, so take a look:

  • The Huffington Post is hosting an editorial by Rick Ayers on current educational battles, through the lens of Declan Kiberd’s new book, Ulysses and us: The art of everyday life in Joyce’s masterpiece.: “Schooling has been robbed of this welcoming spirit of literature, of the numerous popular and revolutionary voices which populate powerful writing. It has reduced literature to the prescriptive scolds of a Harold Bloom or the forbidding elite museum of a William Bennett. Our students aren’t invited to read and engage with literature. They are ordered to decode, to adopt the distant language of eviscerated analytical prose. Kiberd refreshingly reminds us that, just as at a sporting event, everyone should feel entitled to have a valid opinion on the game, even if they are viewing it in different ways. … He points out that in the early twentieth century it was common for reading groups to exist among working people in Ireland and England which did not hesitate at all to take up Shakespeare or any other text. But one of the great travesties of the universities has been to undermine democratic literacy: ‘Democracy was no longer seen as the sharing of a common fund of textual knowledge but as providing access to this or that super-educated grouping. No longer was the prevailing idea that anyone bright enough could read and understand Hamlet or Ulysses but that anyone sufficiently clever could aspire to become one of the paid specialists who did such things.’ … We need to be about the business of transformative and deep learning.” Sarah says: It’s as if some one got inside my head and coalesced all of the thoughts that have been swimming around in there for the last few months. This details why we teach liberal arts, not just science or business. Why we teach the great authors to all, and for all. It is, basically, what is at the heart of every one of our education department discussions. Cass says: I love the bit about “working people” taking up Shakespeare, because it goes to what I always say about it — if no one tells you it’s hard, you probably won’t think it is. If you go into it assuming, “Yeah, I’m smart enough to get this,” then you will have a much easier time than if you’ve been told all your life that it’s difficult to understand and beyond most people’s reach. Yet more backing for why Shakespeare needs to be rescued from the clutches of the Ivory Tower.
  • The NEA has released several reports on arts participation in the US. Electronic media has (perhaps unsurprisingly) increased interaction, and people who create art are significantly more likely to attend artistic events.
  • Helen Mirren wants to ban Shakespeare. Or, rather, she wants to ban reading it in classrooms in exchange for taking students to see productions. Cass says: While I think she’s on the right track, it shouldn’t be an “either-or” situation; it should be a “both-and” — really, a “both-and-also” with the additional component of staging the text in the classroom. Nothing helps students learn Shakespeare more than actually doing it.
  • The Toronto Star has an editorial on “Why Dead White Men Are Cool Again,” advocating the revival of aspects of classical education, and Seattle University is revising its core curriculum, and some are protesting the changes to the humanities. Opponents of the new system, which would allow students to choose either history or literature as a requirement, rather than mandating both, emphasize the importance of cultural capital: “Cultural capital refers to a person’s accumulated knowledge in society. When a student learns about the causes of the American Civil War or reads William Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ they gain cultural capital, which will benefit them throughout their personal and professional lives.”

Have a good weekend, all — and don’t forget to vote for your favorite Shakespearean competitors in our March Madness showdown!