Thoughts & Views: To be, or not to be, ill-educated?

4-29 Op_webNow is the winter of our discontent. (Okay, it’s really spring, but it felt like winter last week and “the spring of our discontent” doesn’t sound as good.)

In any case, we are discontented. (Yes, we usually are, but this discontent deserves a column.)

We have written before about what we perceive as a dismal lack of education among American students. We have met college graduates who think Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald. According to a survey by the National Geographic Society, 20% of the students in a Dallas high school pointed to Brazil when asked to pick out the U.S. on a globe.

Yes, these are just two anecdotal examples. But try doing a Google search on “American student ignorance.” It’s frightening.

Our continuing sorrow over declining standards in education was deepened last week by a front-page story in The Star-Ledger: “Colleges give Shakespeare the brush-off.”

It noted that, according to a new academic report:

“The vast majority of the top universities in the U.S. . . . do not require English majors to take a single course on Shakespeare . . . .”

Said Michael Poliakoff, lead author of the report, “Many of these institutions brand themselves as places that provide a true liberal arts education, but this study shows that is too often a claim full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.” Bravo, Mr. Poliakoff. But we wonder how many high school/college students realize you were quoting The Bard. (If they even know to whom “The Bard” refers.)

Shakespeare’s soliloquies are superb, but so much poetic imagery and wisdom are found in his works, that even simple excerpts have come down to us through 400 years to become part of 21st century common usage.

Consider:

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”

 “Brevity is the soul of wit.” 

“The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” 

“What’s in a name?” 

“Something wicked this way comes.”

 “The course of true love never did run smooth.” 

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”

 “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” 

“The fault is not in our stars . . . but in ourselves.” 

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on.” 

And: “What’s done, is done.” 

There are hundreds of other examples. Along with, of course, the majesty of the full speeches. If you are ever in need of a little uplifting, read the magnificent St. Crispin’s Day speech from “Henry V.” (The phrase “band of brothers” comes from that.)

And a writer of such genius is now being given short shrift in American universities? That, in itself, is a Shakespearean tragedy.

Karen Zautyk | Observer Correspondent