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Posted at 2:50 PM ET, 10/ 5/2009

Should Shakespeare Be Required Reading?

By Valerie Strauss

What should students learn at school? Guest blogger Daniel Willingham, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Virginia, wrote here today about what students should be required to read. There is a related discussion on the “Bridging Differences” blog about what students should learn in school. Read below what veteran educator Deborah Meier wrote to her co-blogger, researcher and teacher Diane Ravitch.

What do you think about Meier's suggestions--especially her position on teaching Shakespeare?

Deborah Meier on Bridging Differences blog:
"What I want to argue out with you, and our readers, is the nature of the kind of curriculum or subject matter for which schools in a democratic society, funded by public monies, should be held accountable. What can we demonstrate is essential for 100 percent of all voters—18-year-olds—to understand?

"1. Reading the newspapers or non-fiction magazines—or their equivalent. Being able to report to others on stories, engage in a discussion about them, and write a letter to the editor and op-ed column on a few with which they disagree. Maybe on two levels—one at around ages 11-12 and the other at 16-18.

"2. Sufficient mathematics to make sense of what they find in the media—statistics, probabilities, forms of graphing, percentages, et al to a high degree of sophistication by the time they are 16. Basic arithmetic computation by 13.

"3. Then comes the subject matter, the stuff that is worth reading and writing about and for! Science, history, literature, all the arts, law, governance, philosophy/ethics, politics, and economics. The criteria? Whatever is needed to be a knowledgeable and powerful member of a democracy!

"Literature. A learned academic book reviewer in The New York Times recently claimed that "no one disagrees that everyone should..." have read Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, and Homer. What’s the "evidence" for such a claim—much less that "everyone" would agree? (Maybe one definition of well-educated people is that they know better than to make claims about "no one" or "everyone.")

"While great fiction can lay claim to take us into worlds we never could otherwise experience, including the personal worlds of people unlike ourselves, thus making one a better democrat—more empathetic, for example—I’ve found insufficient evidence that this is what requiring the reading of Milton does."

By Valerie Strauss  | October 5, 2009; 2:50 PM ET
Tags:  Deborah Meier, literature, what students should learn  
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