Imprimis: Links and Tidbits, 25 March 2011

This week: the value of teachers and the quality of education, some international news, and a slew of focused essays on Shakespeare’s works.

  • An international panel is encouraging the U.S. to raise teachers’ status. Cass says: Whenever this topic comes up, I remember the fantastic speech Sam Seaborne makes in an episode of The West Wing, when he says that schools should be palaces, that teachers should be making six-figure salaries and that the competition to be the best should be fierce. Why aren’t teachers held to the same standards and given the same respect (and salaries) as doctors? Surely they hold a place of equivalent significance to a society’s success.
  • At the same time, U.S. colleges are getting praise from the Brits (who are currently facing their own struggles with education). Sarah says: Hmmm, maybe we do some things right…
  • This article about students texting in class has an interesting link to Shakespeare — towards the end of the article, the teacher discusses methods she’s taken to switch things up in her classroom and encourage her students’ attention to stay on her and on their work rather than on their phones — and one of those methods is getting students up to act out scenes from Hamlet rather than just reading them. Cass says: I wonder if this might be a way to convince some teachers who are still reluctant about classroom staging to give it a try — after all, if your student has a text in his hand and everyone’s eyes on him in the center of the classroom, he’s probably not going to be whipping out his smartphone for a Facebook update.
  • The British education secretary has proposed an initiative to get students as young as 11 reading 50 books a year. Cass says: I think this is a great idea, and I’m confused by all the hullabaloo it’s generated. On the one hand, folk are saying that the government shouldn’t be mandating literature, that they shouldn’t be giving citizens a required reading list (and, it’s worth noting, they aren’t — the proposal has some suggestions, but no forced list), and on the other hand, some are saying that if students just read any fifty books, what’s the point? If they just read “junk,” what’s the benefit? Shouldn’t quality matter more than quantity? Well, I can’t see how getting students — or adults! — reading more is a bad thing. I’d rather someone reading fifty trashy romance novels or than someone who reads nothing at all. Brain candy books have merit, too — your imagination and the language centers of your brain get stimulated whether it’s classic literature or not. In order to get them reading quality, you first have to get them reading at all.
  • In an age when celebrities like Victoria Beckham declare that they’ve never read a book in their lives with no apparent shame or dismay about that, it’s encouraging to see this list of the 15 Most Well-Educated Celebrities.
  • Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust has had a series of Shakespeare debates featuring students aged 15-18. Cass says: I love this idea. From the quotes this article displays, it looks like it’s really getting the students into the nitty-gritty of the play, making them think critically about the character dynamics and the human emotions swirling about in Othello.
  • An interesting op-ed, in the wake of the earthquake in Japan, on how Shakespeare’s words can help cope with grieving.
  • An essay from a Catholic perspective on Henry V and the idea of a “just war.” This essay looks both at Shakespeare’s text, the historical reality, and the scripture relating to declaring war. Cass says: Even if you’re not Catholic, it’s an interesting read, and something worth a dramaturg’s notice.
  • Open Shakespeare has an intriguing essay examining the Macbeths’ marriage. The author asserts that Lord and Lady M are the only “real personalities,” the well-developed characters in the play (Cass says: Not sure I agree there — I would argue that Banquo and Macduff have a fair bit of depth going on as well) and that they are “Shakespeare’s happiest married couple.”
  • The British Museum will be hosting a “blockbuster Shakespeare show” in advance of the 2012 Olympics. “London 1612: Shakespeare’s Theatre of the World … will explore the role of the capital as an emerging international city 400 years ago, interpreted through his plays. The blockbuster show will include more than 150 exhibits, including important paintings from national and private collections, rare jewels and manuscripts including a First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays.” Cass says: As though I needed more things tempting me into a trip to London.