To Be or Not to Be: Is Shakespeare Necessary in High School English Classes?

Is Shakespeare necessary in high school English classes?  That is MY question…

Why do they still force Shakespeare and ancient literature on high school students who have no future use for it?  I understand that Shakespeare’s tragedies are part of the history of literature, and feel that he should be mentioned in that context, but devoting a large part of English classes to deciphering it is ridiculous.  I do not mean to offend any readers that may enjoy and appreciate Shakespeare, but am speaking here as a mother of three sons, none of whom found the hours spent on Shakespeare useful or interesting.

English is the only mandatory (at least here in Canada) course in grade twelve.   That fact is understandable as we are a predominantly English-speaking country.    Most Canadian universities require a minimum mark of 70% in grade twelve English for admission.  That would not be much of a problem for university bound students if the curriculum consisted of things these students could actually use in their chosen careers.  Useful skills such as writing resumes, memos, and technical reports,  using proper grammar, preparing PowerPoint presentations, debating and public speaking would be much more beneficial and less of a waste of time for students trying to concentrate on their futures.  When they are not interested in, and have no future use for Shakespeare and English literature, forcing it on them only serves to lower their grade average, compromising their acceptance into the university of their choice.

Grade twelve is a stressful year for students trying to decide what they want to do after high school graduation.  Unless headed for a degree in English literature, studying and analyzing Shakespeare is of no use to many of these students.  Perhaps English literature should be an optional course in high school instead of mandatory, so that those students that enjoy it and may have use for it can benefit without punishing those that do not and will not…

“To Be or Not to Be” should be “To Take or Not to Take”

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10 thoughts on “To Be or Not to Be: Is Shakespeare Necessary in High School English Classes?

  1. I know that not every student is going to engage with Shakespeare, and it is a shame that high school English isn’t structured so that courses are selected somewhat along the same way that college students choose the course emphasis. It seems counterintuitive to me to force Shakespeare too early and perhaps ruin any chance that a student would later in life develop a curiosity or interest. I do think that some teachers are more creative and better suited to bridge the interest gap! I also think Shakespeare is best for college students. That would make sense to me!

  2. Shakespeare is a rite of passage. His works have themes in them that are still of utmost importantance in today’s world, and learning to decipher his English helps get minds thinking in a different way. It also depends on the teacher, as if taught correctly, students end up loving them. I had no desire to read The Scarlett Letter, but thanks to an amazing teacher, I fell in love with the book. There are always Cliff Notes to help out. But Shakespeare should stay a part of the curriculm (at least Romeo and Juliet). There are so many lessons to be brought out from his works that reflect in today’s world.

  3. I had to read Romeo & Juliet Twice, why? A little Shakespeare is fine when studying plays, but there are a world of classic novels that are skipped over in the public school system that would have helped me learn much better than the 5 Shakespeare plays I had to. Plays are not meant to be read they are meant to be performed a la drama class. Most of the books that taught me valuable lessons are the ones I read on my own.

  4. I agree about the teacher part, some can make the world of difference…I guess none of my sons had one in each of their four years of high school English, they all dreaded the large portion of Shakespeare each year!

  5. exactly, mention it in high school, but save the in depth analysis of it for college/university for those that will appreciate it more.

  6. I hated Shakespeare when I was in high school. It was the most boring part of the most boring subject (English). I hated it so much that I stopped going to class, and ended up having to take English and the hated Shakespeare in summer school. There, with the help of a passion-filled teacher, I was able to get into Shakespeare (MacBeth), and I aced the course. The point is that I was able to do it – I was able to pay attention and get good marks even in a subject that I hated. Sure I agree that Shakespeare is a classic, and that young students should be exposed to it. I also agree that many will find it boring, fall asleep and maybe get a bad grade. But who’s fault is that? Perhaps a passion-less teacher. Perhaps. Something to think about going forward though, whether the young student goes on to study engineering, medicine or business, they are going to have university and or college courses that will bore them to tears. The electrical engineer will have to take fluid dynamics, the budding doctor will have to study eco-systems, and the business major may actually have to take calculus. Not all courses in your curriculum are going to fill you with passion, but you have to get good marks to get through, and that means bucking up and studying even for courses you find boring. It’s a good thing that the kids learn this lesson in high school. It’s also a pretty good life lesson as well…

  7. My 9th grader is reading The Odyssey now and then they go into Romeo and Juliet. It’s ridiculous. They have no life experiences to draw on with these stories. Is it just so the school can boast “Our students are required to read blah and blah?”

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