Shakespeare: more than a ‘long-dead, British guy’


According to American English teacher Dana Dusbiber, the works of William Shakespeare don’t need to be taught in schools because he is a ‘long-dead, British guy’.

In a Washington Post guest column, Dusbiber argues that Shakespeare’s works are archaic and irrelevant for today’s youth because they represent a ‘Eurocentric’ view of the world deemed important long ago by ‘some white people’. Dusbiber continues:

What I worry about is that as long as we continue to cling to ONE (white) MAN’S view of life as he lived it so long ago, we (perhaps unwittingly) promote the notion that other cultural perspectives are less important.

Why not teach the oral tradition out of Africa, which includes an equally relevant commentary on human behavior? Why not teach translations of early writings or oral storytelling from Latin America or Southeast Asia other parts of the world?

It gets worse:

If we only teach students of color, as I have been fortunate to do my entire career, then it is far past the time for us to dispense with our Eurocentric presentation of the literary world. Conversely, if we only teach white students, it is our imperative duty to open them up to a world of diversity through literature that they may never encounter anywhere else in their lives.

Dusbiber’s dismissal of the Western canon is foolish. William Shakespeare, George Orwell and Jane Austen to name a few, are giants of the literary world. They represent the best examples of English writing and storytelling. To disregard these texts purely on the basis that they were written centuries ago by ‘white’ people is to ignore the many lessons they can teach us about humanity. Dusbiber’s damaging views on Western literature are not new. The IPA’s 2014 report, The English Curriculum: A Critique, reveals how Australia’s own national curriculum denigrates its legacy.

By choosing to elevate cultural differences, Dusbiber does her students a disservice. In her quest for a progressive classroom, she makes the false assumption that European students will enjoy the works of European authors, African students will connect to the works of African authors, and female students will only appreciate the works of female authors. She assumes her ‘ethnically-diverse’ students will see no value in Shakespeare’s works or wider Western literature because they differ culturally and racially. Similarly, she assumes Shakespeare’s stories can be equalled by others. Her attitude is simplistic at best. At worst, it is another damaging example of cultural relativism.

Shakespeare transcends time. His complex characters and exhilarating stories have formed the foundations of modern literature, influencing thousands of later writers. He is credited with inventing more than 1700 words, enriching our language with his creativity and literary devices. Shakespeare deftly explored universal emotions such as love, passion, jealousy, grief and rage, and their often tragic and euphoric consequences. The lessons from his stories are as relevant today as they were 450 years ago.

The beauty of Shakespeare’s work is that it exposes our humanity, our vulnerabilities, and our strengths. Even centuries ago, Shakespeare recognised that regardless of where we come from, we are all subject to the human condition. We struggle, endure and triumph because we are human, not because of our gender or ethnicity. It is a shame that like so many others today, Dusbiber doesn’t choose to see what unites us, but what divides us.


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