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Old 10-04-2012, 11:09 AM   #61
HarryT
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Originally Posted by Tarana View Post
The difficulty with Shakespeaer is that not only are you learning the ins and outs about what the story represents, but you are also learning a second language, given that middle-aged english isn't spoken by native speakers anywhere any more.
Come on, that really is rather an exaggeration. The grammatical differences between Elizabethan English and English of the 21st century are minor (and primarily consist of things NOT present in Elizabethan times), and the vocabulary issues can be overstressed. There are relatively few words in Shakespeare that are totally unfamiliar to a modern reader. Words can be used in unfamiliar ways, true, but it's hardly "learning a second language".
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Old 10-04-2012, 11:18 AM   #62
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What I have learned is that you can't force feed education. Even young people are at different stages in their life. Some are interested in learning, some just have too many things to deal with in their personal life to be able to focus on education.
I strongly disagree. Children who aren't the targets of truly *vile* abuse--that is, children whose waking hours are entirely focused on bare survival--love to learn. All of them. The love of discovery and a fascination with understanding how the world works runs deep in humans; children are born with an innate desire to learn the world and how they relate to it.

It takes serious work to pound that out of children, until they think "education" means "doing really boring pointless crap just well enough to earn the right to run around at recess."

They learn during recess. They learn social mores, applied physics, arbitrary rule sets, their own bodies' limits, emotional bonding, and time management. These are hardly insignificant skills, and they can't be learned by forced structured behavior.

Some things can. But a lot of schools fail to match their structuring to the way kids learn, as opposed to the way kids *in a particularly cultural setting* have been taught to learn. Lesson plans are still devised around the notion that kids live in a nuclear family, with one parent always home and another who works full-time days and is available for help and guidance in the evenings. Both parents are assumed to be available on the weekends; the parents are presumed to speak English; the entire family is presumed to be able-bodied and have no specific dietary needs, and so on. The parents are presumed to be interested in and supportive of formal education. If any of these isn't true, the lesson plans have to be adjusted, or the kid runs a big chance of falling behind the kids who have those advantages.

There is no such thing as a 10-year-old who doesn't like to learn. (A quick experiment involving grapes, liquid nitrogen, and a hammer will prove this. The entire class will demand to know "how'd you do that?") There are, however, plenty of 10-year-olds who have no affinity for learning by reading texts and writing essays based on them; that skillset has to be taught.

If it's not taught, that's not a failure on the part of the child. If the *importance* of that skill isn't taught, that's not the fault of the child, either.

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I used to tell students that refused their assignments that I am Ok with it as long as they are Ok with a D or an F. And if they think their life sucks 15 years down the road they have forfeited their right to blame the educational system (not that it will stop them).
Teenagers are not qualified to make decisions that are going to shape the entire rest of their lives. That's why we don't give them the right to vote, sign contracts, choose their own health care, or pick what classes to attend. Any teacher who tells a student in all seriousness, "well, you're free to decide [x] and ruin your life thereby" is cheating that child out of the guidance they were hired to provide.

Teenagers have *started* to make their own decisions. They have to be allowed to make some mistakes, too. But any teacher who believes "I just teach; if they decide not to learn, that's up to them" is incompetent. They're weaseling around their inability to persuade kids that the topic is interesting and important.

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Correct me if I am wrong, but HS and Uni are not part of the compulsory education system. it is a free choice, with it comes the equivalent responsibility.
You are wrong. High school is a mandatory part of a child's education, at least in the US. The age at which school becomes opt-out varies from 16 to 18 depending on state. And even then, before 18, the opt-out belongs to the parents, not the child.

While most children will not care for some classic literature, a child who dislikes *all* of it has been cheated by teachers and a school system that failed to show why these stories are still of value.
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Old 10-04-2012, 11:36 AM   #63
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Come on, that really is rather an exaggeration. The grammatical differences between Elizabethan English and English of the 21st century are minor (and primarily consist of things NOT present in Elizabethan times), and the vocabulary issues can be overstressed. There are relatively few words in Shakespeare that are totally unfamiliar to a modern reader. Words can be used in unfamiliar ways, true, but it's hardly "learning a second language".
In the US, it's very much "learning a second dialect"--one that the child has likely never been exposed to. The pronunciation and cadence of speech is entirely alien.

There are relatively few words unfamiliar to an *adult* modern reader, and that's more true in the UK than in the US.

Opening of "Midsummer Night's Dream," often taught in high schools as it's considered one of the more accessible stories--kids may not understand the politics of Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet, but they're plenty familiar with "he likes her but she likes that other him, but now they're all confused."

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Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour
Draws on apace; four happy days bring in
Another moon: but, O, methinks, how slow
This old moon wanes! she lingers my desires,
Like to a step-dame or a dowager
Long withering out a young man revenue.
Words likely to be confusing to an American teenager:
Nuptial, apace, moon, wanes, step-dame, dowager.

While the kid certainly knows the word "moon," she may never have heard it as a euphemism for "month." "Apace" is understandable... after a bit of thought. "Nuptial" is an uncommon term here; kids rarely hear it unless their parents are somehow involved in the wedding industry. My kids know what waxing and waning mean because we're Pagan; "wanes" not a grade-school vocab word here. "Step-dame" is clear enough once you know that a "dame" doesn't mean "any woman," which is how it's often used here. "Dowager" is likely to be entirely unknown.

Six lines, six new words to learn. Combine those with the unusual structure of the sentences--great for memorization, weird for casual speech--and by page three of whatever book the play is printed in, 3/4 of the class is lost unless the language was taught before the story.
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Old 10-04-2012, 11:58 AM   #64
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I was in advanced classes all through Junior High and High school. The one thing that I praise those teachers for is that they had the sense to always assign two books - one that would be popular and the other a 'classic.'

The difficulty with Shakespeaer is that not only are you learning the ins and outs about what the story represents, but you are also learning a second language, given that middle-aged english isn't spoken by native speakers anywhere any more.
I'm fairly sure middle-aged Brits, Canucks, Americans, Ozzies and Kiwis still speak middle-aged English.
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Old 10-04-2012, 12:08 PM   #65
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Words likely to be confusing to an American teenager:
Nuptial, apace, moon, wanes, step-dame, dowager.
Sure, I accept that there will be some new vocabulary, but isn't that one of the reasons why we "make" children read in school - to expand their vocabulary?

I just think that the "inaccessibility" of Shakespeare can be exaggerated. I'm not saying that there won't be some unfamiliar words - there will be, of course - but it's really not as fearsome as it's sometimes made out to be.
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Old 10-04-2012, 12:13 PM   #66
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@Elfwreck

We are discussing this from two very different cultural horizons. In Sweden everything after JHS is voluntary. I was not discussing the education of 10 year olds. Their education is compulsory. In Sweden 15 year olds are considered young adults, they are allowed to ride light motorcycles, have sex, choose the parent they prefer to live with etc. They are not required to move on to HS, although some 90 %+ do so, but this includes what in many other countries would be considered trade school.

Since the norm today is single parent families, the curriculum reflects that. Schools are no longer allowed to set unreasonable demands on the students. Only long stretches of absence or truance will lead to their study allowances being reduced, but this isn't handled by the schools and teachers but by the Student Allowance Authority (CSN in Swedish). Hence, teachers have neither carrot nor whip. Thus, if students don't want to study, teachers have to accept that as a given fact.

Trust me, if you think you have problems in the American education system, you will be very releived if you visit Sweden.
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Old 10-04-2012, 12:48 PM   #67
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Originally Posted by HarryT View Post
Sure, I accept that there will be some new vocabulary, but isn't that one of the reasons why we "make" children read in school - to expand their vocabulary?

I just think that the "inaccessibility" of Shakespeare can be exaggerated. I'm not saying that there won't be some unfamiliar words - there will be, of course - but it's really not as fearsome as it's sometimes made out to be.
I think that, given the frightening condition of grammar, punctuation and syntax today (due, in large part, in my opinion, to texting and messaging abbreviation), we may well be discussing the inaccessability of Dr. Seuss before much longer.
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Old 10-04-2012, 01:01 PM   #68
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I vaguely remember that we had some dire set texts in English literature when I was at school. Thankfully, the names of the books and the authors have vanished from my memory.

But I never confused the books I was set in English Literature with the books that I enjoyed reading!

It seems very odd to me that anyone could be put off reading by studying books at school. To me it's as if people could be put off eating by taking cookery (home economics) classes.

But I do recognise that it does happen.
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Old 10-04-2012, 01:13 PM   #69
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Sure, I accept that there will be some new vocabulary, but isn't that one of the reasons why we "make" children read in school - to expand their vocabulary?
Sure--but a kid who has to stop and look up every ninth word, isn't reading the story; there's no awareness of "great literature," just a pile of new words to memorize.

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I just think that the "inaccessibility" of Shakespeare can be exaggerated. I'm not saying that there won't be some unfamiliar words - there will be, of course - but it's really not as fearsome as it's sometimes made out to be.
Shakespeare doesn't have to be inaccessible, but to bring his works to an audience completely unfamiliar with the context of setting, surrounding culture, and linguistic habits takes preparation--and many school teachers (in the US, at least) don't do that.

The kids usually don't have enough understanding of the story themes and background details to gloss over the unfamiliar words and sort out exact meanings later. The rhythm of the speech is like nothing they've heard, so they have to struggle to sort out the basic meanings even of the parts where they know all the words. And, of course, the literary themes are usually new and confusing--because we don't teach literature based on concepts the kids are assumed to understand well; they're supposed to learn new things.

That's three areas of unfamiliarity to wade through. Add, potentially, unfamiliarity with play format; characters with hard-to-pronounce names and meaningless titles; the hassles of learning something new in a class of 30 people who all have slightly different difficulties with it. A good teacher, of course, can guide the kids through that, but that's because a good teacher can teach anything, not because Shakespeare is notably accessible.

It's not incomprehensible, but it's also very much not a matter of "just put the texts in front of the students and make them read, maybe aloud, and they'll understand it if they're paying attention." There are just too many disconnects between a lot of classics and the lives of modern teenagers for that to be reasonable.
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Old 10-04-2012, 01:31 PM   #70
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My daughter isn't a great reader. She's got a good vocabulary, because her dad and I do, and we've never talked down to the kids. Her drama group in high school did Midsummer Night's Dream, and she's been in love with Shakespeare ever since. She took a challenging course on Shakespeare in junior college, and enjoyed every minute of it - she now reads Shakespeare for fun. Of course, it doesn't hurt that her dad's a fan too, and has all the major films of the plays on DVD, so in addition to reading the plays, she can (and has) watched them.

Shakespeare doesn't have to be incomprehensible, but I agree that they were written to be performed, and not just read. If classes that studied the plays in high school also showed the videos, I think kids would get a great deal more out of them, and enjoy them more.
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Old 10-04-2012, 01:38 PM   #71
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Everyone has to eat, but people don't have to read. Many people are put off off vegetables by being served bad vegetables. Brussels sprouts boiled into a stinking mess. Canned peas. Mushy canned asparagus.
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Old 10-04-2012, 01:46 PM   #72
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Everyone has to eat, but people don't have to read.
They do if they want to graduate High School ... unless they're local sports heroes, of course.
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Old 10-04-2012, 02:05 PM   #73
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Many people are put off off vegetables by being served bad vegetables. Brussels sprouts boiled into a stinking mess. Canned peas. Mushy canned asparagus.
Fair point.
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Old 10-04-2012, 02:29 PM   #74
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Come on, that really is rather an exaggeration. The grammatical differences between Elizabethan English and English of the 21st century are minor (and primarily consist of things NOT present in Elizabethan times), and the vocabulary issues can be overstressed.
Have you ever actually read untranslated (ie, exactly as it's written in the original manuscripts - no updating the spelling or grammar to modern norms, as you find in many texts, especially those aimed at English class) Shakespeare? Not an easy task, for most people. It's not nearly as bad as untranslated Chaucer, of course, but still bad enough.

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Old 10-04-2012, 02:40 PM   #75
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I had a stupendously good teaching-award-winning Shakespeare professor, in a small seminar, and still don't like Shakespeare.

Yep. I read novels hidden under the desk while teachers lectured.
*raises hand* Guilty as charged. I used to do this a lot, and read through several Dick Francis mysteries during what was ostensibly a monthlong study of The Grapes of Wrath. I have since bought a copy of the book in case I should ever feel the desire to properly read it.

I consider myself now a good reader but that was something that developed over time, and largely independent of classes before university. I really don't think I had the intellectual maturity when I was a teenager to appreciate what was put in front of me. Perhaps this is true of others.

I had a mix of good and bad teachers. All of them put in the effort but some people are just more gifted at teaching. The best teacher I had used films of Shakespeare, with subtitles on, to help acclimate us with the language and plots. We also acted out parts as we read through the plays.
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