In a recent article, a California teacher refuses to teach Shakespeare as part of the school curriculum. Shakespeare is a tradition that is held in high esteem amongst many English teachers. Many of the aspects of the school curriculum deemphasize the importance of the contributions of Blacks and minorities which continues to perpetuate racism in schools.
According to the article, Dusbiber, a White veteran teacher at the Luther Burbank High School states “I am sad that so many of my colleagues teach a cannon that some white people decided upon so long ago and do it without question”. This teacher also believes that Shakespeare’s view of life is outdated. She continues to ascertain that since her students are mainly minorities, it is paramount to dummying down the school curriculum.
William Shakespeare was an English poet, playwright, and actor who was regarded as the greatest writer in the English language. Shakespeare produced most of his works between 1589 and 1613. His first plays were comedies and histories. Afterwards he wrote mainly tragedies until about 1608 which included Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth. He also wrote tragicomedies, also known as romances, and collaborated with other playwrights.
How can a school curriculum that includes Shakespeare perpetuate racism in schools?
Othello is one on Shakespeare’s writings that reinforces racism in the school curriculum. At the time the play was written, 1604, the Queen of England was racist so there was a strong hatred of Blacks during that time. Many of the racist comments in this play are expressed during anger. For example, when Emilia found out that Othello had killed Desdemona, she was extremely upset and called Othello a “Black devil”. The main characters that had racist attitudes included Iago, Brabantio, Roderigo and Emilia, which was expressed as hatred towards Othello.
One of Othello’s best friend’s made a racist comment when talking to Brabantio about Othello and Desdemona. Iago stated, “Even now, very now, an old black ram is tupping your white ewe”. Iago says this to try and turn Brabantio against Othello. Iago uses racist comments throughout the entire play, as he tries to turn people against Othello. He also calls Othello a “Barbary Horse”.
Roderigo is Iago’s accomplice and will do anything to help Iago. One of the racist comments that he made was describing Othello with the term “Thick-lips”. Brabantio is another racist character, and becomes enraged when he finds out that his daughter, Desdemona, has been dating “the moor” (Othello). Brabantio becomes so angry that he sends out his guards to catch Othello and put him in prison. Brabantio’s view of Othello is that he is a foul and dirty no good Black. Brabantio openly made racist comments regarding Othello to his face which included, “lascivious moor” and “Wheeling stranger”.
How do schools continue to discriminate against Black students which includes school curriculum?
Many school social codes are unfamiliar and opposed to culturally diverse student home codes. Blacks have difficulty with school instructional concepts and ideas that are absent in their community, culture, or economic environment that ignore or misrepresent their present condition. School instructional procedures include cultural values, orientations, and perceptions that differ from those of Black students. Inappropriate curriculum and instruction are concerns that make reversing underachievement for culturally diverse students difficult. The majority of elementary and secondary school curricula are oriented towards white middle-class children. Public schools continue to have culturally based philosophies and curricula that focus on White European and Judeo-Christian values. Improving school for Black students includes establishing a functional partnership between Black culture and school culture and developing school educational missions that do not compromise or ignore the cultural identity of Black children. Effective high school instructional programs place value on the students’ language and culture. Instructional materials and instructors who work well for European students do not necessarily work well for culturally diverse students, and to believe that they do is to assume Black, Latino, American Indian, Asian, Arab and African immigrants, and European-origin students have identical personal, social, cultural, historical, and family traits.
School instructional procedures include cultural values, perceptions, and orientations that differ from those of Black students. Students who are not interested in school may meet teacher demands for compliance with resistance. Blacks acquire cultural values, attitudes, and learning styles that conflict with values, attitudes, and learning styles needed for success in public schools. Exposing minority students to conditions such as limited parental access to economic and educational resources, conflicting ideas about cultural transmission and primary language use in the home, and interaction style that does not prepare students for typical teacher-student interaction patterns prepare students for school failure before they begin to attend school. Individuals who accept school cultural orientation values expect passivity by the learner, authoritative transmission of information by the teacher, individual effort aimed at completing assigned tasks, performance recognition, avoidance of confrontations, and minimal antagonisms. In school, Black students become passive informational recipients while in their culture they are involved in a learning experience that is give and take, and in one situation, they may be the learner and in another situation, they are the teacher. Black students can benefit from teachers who show concern and care for students by establishing family- and community-like classroom environments that include telling personal anecdotes, using relevant course material, and modifying interaction styles that entertain and engage students.
Schools should consider revamping the school curriculum to ensure that Black and other minorities do not continue to be victimized by racism in education.
Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D. www.positiveracialrelationships.com PO Box 1668 Blackwood, NJ 08012
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