I ask the students for the most cutting edge vocabulary, (there should be a word for it - Pop English?) and then I ask them how to spell it, and how the word functions in a sentence. 99% of the time, students haven't thought about whether or not they're using a verb or an adverb, especially because modern vocabulary words so often function as something outside of what Madlibs taught us to name. (That's a verb! That's a noun! Easy enough. That's a... subordinating conjunction?) Spelling is also an issue of high debate, but thanks to text and social media, a lot of the newest words have been communicated through writing - some of them only through text. (For example: nobody says “LOL" out loud, unless you're doing it ironically.) But you don't need to know what a subordinating conjunction is before you have the skill to use it... the students can ABSOLUTELY use the new words they know in many, many sentences in order to demonstrate to me a word's multiple functions.
They do not know how amazing that is, so I tell them.
Introducing philology to the people who are on the cutting edge of the newest English languages is a fascinating experience, and I firmly believe that it unwedges Shakespeare from an entrenchment in a racist history.
Teaching Shakespeare in the United States began in colonial America, when people will sill learning in ways very much like Shakespeare's own schooling. (The first European colonizers, including but not limited to Spanish conquistadors, started plundering American soil and the indigenous people living on it well before Shakespeare died. Our shiny new country is closer to the Englishest of English historical literature than we think.) The lessons in colonial and antebellum era were mostly focused on memorization, rhetoric, and elocution - all the makings of a gentleman. Students, sons of white landowners, memorized Shakespeare passages in order to run for president. Of course, these methods were also used by European colonizers around the world to teach indigenous people the English language, eroding or eradicating native languages.
Side note: It's nice to hear that Unesco declared 2019 its year of indigenous languages, in an effort to “preserve, revitalise and promote indigenous languages around the world.” I'm excited to read about the results of their efforts - it's only February, I can be patient.
It's no surprise that Shakespeare's ties to colonization (and the general idea that white culture is superior culture) makes for a parallel history of PROBLEMATIC teaching methods. I have planted my boots in this mud, and I am belly laughing at the irony of it all. When Shakespeare was writing, spelling and grammar weren't even standardized in the English language, so modern rules don't actually help you read the play. Shakesepare was a good playwright because he listened to the words people used at the time and wrote them down, legitimizing his day's “Pop English" and preserving it for the rest of history- he didn't invent the English vocabulary any more than Lizzo does. Shakespeare's plays were printed poorly, in multiple formats with multiple alterations - any argument along the lines of “but that's not what Shakespeare intended!" is hip-deep in bullshit. And of course there's the tired old “Shakesepare wrote plays, not books" argument you could talk yourself hoarse with, and still we teach it from the page first, because tradition.
We expect students to read “the height of English literature" by giving them essay questions on themes that perhaps resonate with them today, but without giving them the tools to understand how the language relates to their own modern Pop English. This is baffling to me. How can you expect the most brilliant inventors of today's English to understand the most brilliant inventor of English from 450 years ago without first studying HOW ENGLISH EVOLVES? English evolves.
Dr. Christopher Emdin has a lot to say about how white teachers, entrenched in a history of colonial teaching methods, enter urban environments in much the same way that colonial Americans “taught" indigenous populations. His research and methods and ideas about teaching pedagogy are born out of his love for teaching science and math - what we're currently missing in modern schooling is applying these ideas to English in a way that legitimizes and celebrates the way students naturally communicate. Instead of eradicating their “neo-indigenous" use of Pop English, I want to allow my Shakespeare students to study and then celebrate these differences in an honest way.
The little work I've done on this in classrooms has already given me back more than I ever could have invented on my own.
I will continue to dedicate myself to this philological agenda.
Because I STAN Shakespeare.