Kill Shakespeare? Nay, says teacher

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Locals weigh in on curriculum review survey

A veteran St. Albert English teacher says he’s terrified that the province could drop Shakespeare from the school curriculum because of a recent provincial survey.

Alberta Education Minister David Eggen released a summary of the results of last fall’s provincial K-12 curriculum survey last week.

The expansive two-part survey asked Albertans how the province should revise the Language Arts, Math, Social Studies, Arts and Wellness curricula.

Eggen said Albertans showed great interest in the rewrite, with the province getting some 32,000 responses to the first part of the survey and 25,000 for the second.

“Albertans want us to take action to ensure a focus on core skills such as literacy and mathematics,” said Eggen, summarizing the results. They also wanted more emphasis on computer programming and francophone and First Nations perspectives.

Survey respondents also said they wanted more content about climate change and mental health, and more cross-subject connections in all areas.

But the survey also found that there was “a strong desire for the removal of Shakespeare as a required author” amongst Albertans.

St. Albert’s Scott Gibson Dodd, who taught high-school English for 23 years before taking a job at St. Albert Public’s district office said cutting Shakespeare from the lesson plan would be a mistake.

“Shakespeare is one of the greatest writers in any language in all of history,” he said.

“He was a guy who understood existentialism before the existentialists knew what existentialism was,” he added, citing Hamlet as an example.

“We’re sitting on the cusp of a new era where young children will not know who Shakespeare is because we’re going to cut him right out of the curriculum, and that terrifies me.”

Pens out, finances in

A closer look suggests that Albertans might not hate Shakespeare as much as this survey suggests. Jeremy Nolais, chief of staff for the minister of education, said that about 60 out of the 25,615 people who responded to the second part of the survey mentioned Shakespeare (there were no specific questions on Shakespeare in the survey), and about 50 of those opposed Shakespeare being a mandatory part of the curriculum.

Gibson Dodd said Shakespeare still offers valuable insight into leadership styles and the human condition to today’s kids. Still, the province should probably pare back the amount of time students spend on his works to make room for other material.

The survey found that while about 68 per cent of respondents wanted cursive writing taught as early as Grade 3, many would prefer it taught later or not at all.

Gibson-Dodd said he favoured ditching penmanship for keyboarding lessons. Typing is much faster than writing, and kids type much more than they write today.

The survey found that about 90 per cent of respondents agreed that financial literacy should be included in the Grade 4-6 and 7-9 Math curricula.

Bellerose Math department head Bill Willette said finance was an outstanding application of math that had relevance to everyone, and he wanted more use of it in high-school math classes.

Willette was ambivalent on the survey’s call for more emphasis on mental math and less use of calculators at lower grades. On the one hand, he said he encounters many high-school students who don’t understand how to work with numbers – a big problem when it comes to algebra. He noted that calculators only work if you have a strong grasp of the fundamentals. On the other hand, calculators can let students tackle complex problems much earlier, and the technology isn’t going away.

Willette supported the survey’s call to teach coding or programming in high school as part of Math, as high-level math solutions were essentially programs.

“It’s hugely important to get that into our curriculum,” he said, as it would open up thousands of jobs for students.

Eggen said the province plans to do a second curriculum review survey this May.

Visit education.alberta.ca for a summary of the survey results.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.