Education Letters: Bard reactions

Brandon Robshaw's groan of despair is surely only defensible if Shakespeare is taught as an academic subject, and the teacher fails to respond to the drama of the plays ("Why it's time to give the Bard the heave-ho!", 24 April, EDUCATION & CAREERS). The man was an actor, for heaven's sake – and the plays should be taught up on the feet not lumpenly over a desk. Everything makes more sense if you're standing up and speaking the stuff.

Language of that order is empowering to those who have never been asked to follow a thought to its conclusion, and to whom no one has probably ever listened. It's all very extreme stuff, and kids, as I understand them, like extreme; nothing namby-pamby and colourless here. It's more likely the teachers, not the students, who need encouragement to be braver. Bad teaching puts the kibosh on the best of tirades.

Janet Suzman, London, NW3

Brandon Robshaw's reasons are convincing. Sixty years ago, I too found the texts too archaic to understand. Then I played Bottom the Weaver, and A Midsummer Night's Dream came alive. I relished the language, and eventually became a first long-contract artist with the Royal Shakespeare Company, staying throughout the 1960s.

My point is that some children, if taught to understand the characters' thinking, will be released by becoming supremely articulate through rolling those unique lines on their tongues and lips. Acting the stuff reveals the humanity under the archaic fog.

Clive Swift, London, NW8

I agree that we should stop teaching Shakespeare in school. I disagree that if you don't like Shakespeare, you "don't get it". Quite the reverse, I should say. It's those who like Shakespeare who need to wise up. We have a huge Shakespeare industry, relentlessly promoting the myth of his brilliance. Teachers, lecturers, professors, actors, directors, novelists, playwrights, politicians... they all know that playing the Bard card is never a bad move.

From what I can gather, Shakespeare was respected but hardly revered in his own lifetime. There was no obsession with Shakespeare until as late as the 19th century, when the Bard's hype machine went into overdrive. Why weren't we told that at school? Judging by the quality of his typical audiences, Shakespeare's modern equivalent is probably a scriptwriter for EastEnders. Can you imagine some pretentious clown telling us, 400 years hence, that if we don't like EastEnders, we "don't get it"? Ah, such incisive characterisation and dazzling psychological insight. The bleak humour and poignant emotion that sears every page. And above all, the divine use of language: "You slag!"

Mike Hockney, Newcastle upon Tyne

Congratulations to Brandon Robshaw. I have felt for a long time that forcing all children to "study" Shakespeare from the age of 13 will have the counter-productive effect of putting many of them off the Bard for life. As the article suggests, Shakespearean English is a foreign language, in which most pupils have little or no training.

It is a self-evident principle of learning that students will try to master a skill that is only slightly beyond their range, but we've all had experiences when something has been so far beyond our ability that we've simply given up in despair. That is the case for countless numbers of our native schoolchildren, not to mention those for whom even modern English is something they, with the best will in the world, are struggling to master.

Graham Griffiths, Bury, Lancs

Our experience of working on Shakespeare in schools has been very different from Brandon Robshaw's. Over the past 30 years, the RSC has worked with literally thousands of young people of all backgrounds and abilities, and has constantly seen them both "get" Shakespeare and not just "like" him, but love him. In our manifesto for Shakespeare in schools, "Stand up for Shakespeare", we recommend that, for young people to have the most enriching experience of Shakespeare, they need to do it on their feet, exploring the plays as actors do; see it live; and start it earlier.

Some of the most inspirational teaching of Shakespeare we have seen has been in the primary classroom, where children delight in learning new and unusual uses of language, and approach texts with a playfulness that we see actors and directors use in rehearsals.

We treat the plays as if the ink were still wet on the page – we are constantly asking ourselves what these texts mean to us today. Asking this same question of the young people we work with, and giving them the tools they need to unlock the language and living dilemmas in the texts is a way of ensuring that Shakespeare remains one of the most exciting, and relevant, parts of the curriculum.

Jacqui O'Hanlon, Acting Director of Education, Royal Shakespeare Company

Brandon Robshaw believes that force-feeding children Shakespeare can only induce nausea and a lifelong aversion. I suggest the opposite. Tore Wretman, the great Swedish chef, argued that you need to be "tortured" by traditional Swedish food as a child to love it as an adult.

Per Sodersten, Stockholm, Sweden

nnn I recently introduced my Year 5 class to Hamlet. Given that they come from a mixed socio-economic area with some deprivation, I was anxious to make the experience as exciting as possible. Implementing ideas and techniques from several RSC courses, we acted out parts of the play, explored characterisation, motivation and dilemmas. This was supplemented with a trip to a Shakespeare4Kidz production at The Lowry. The children's responses were uplifting, with comments including, "This was the best school trip ever."

If a group of primary-school children from a deprived area feel like this about Shakespeare, surely there is hope for all school children?

Jennifer Bolton, Longton, Lancs

TRANSGENDER PUPILS

Thank you for the thought-provoking article by Rachel Pugh about transgender pupils. Things can be so much worse for them than for adults, partly because their access to help and medical intervention is much more restricted, and because staff in schools and colleges are often completely ignorant of the issues.

Howard Miles, UCU National Executive Committee

CHEMISTRY GRADUATES

We must take issue with the table headed "employment prospects" in the story about degrees and jobs prospects in The Complete University Guide (24 April, EDUCATION & CAREERS.) The table focuses on one statistic – that 34 per cent of chemistry graduates are employed in a graduate job six months after graduating. You have omitted the key fact that only 7 per cent of chemistry graduates are unemployed.

A glance at the full table reveals that just 14 per cent of chemistry graduates are in non-graduate jobs – 79 per cent are in fully fledged graduate roles, or are still studying.

Chemistry graduates are, in reality, subject to high demand, in fields directly related to chemistry, and in professions such as the financial services, where their proven skills – not only in data analysis and numeracy, but also their understanding of the physical world, and the providing of robust intellectual challenges – are highly valued and well rewarded.

Dr Richard Pike, Chief executive, Royal Society of Chemistry

Send letters to: The Editor, Education,'The Independent', Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; fax to: 020-7005 2143; email to: education@independent.co.uk; letters may be edited for length and clarity

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games...
News
i100
Sport
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
News
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
News
news
News
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
News
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Singer songwriter Bob Dylan performs on stage
films
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Austen Lloyd: Employment Solicitor

£30000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent: Austen Lloyd: Employment Solicitor - Ke...

Ashdown Group: HR Generalist - 2 week contract - £200pd - Immediate start

£200 per day: Ashdown Group: Working within a business that has a high number ...

Randstad Education Cardiff: Maths Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: We are currently recruiting f...

Randstad Education Cardiff: Science Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Science Teacher -Full Time - ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital