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The Boston Globe

Magazine

Perspective

In the classroom, making classic literature matter

Defending Shakespeare in the age of MCAS.

LAST YEAR I TAUGHT AT THE CLARENCE R. EDWARDS MIDDLE SCHOOL in Charlestown as part of the national nonprofit Citizen Schools enrichment program. In afternoon classes, we tried to develop in our students a drive to attend college, in part by focusing on academic skills and goal-setting. But midyear, I had the chance to create a six-week elective. Others taught courses on Italian food, world sports, and art history. I decided to teach Shakespeare. My colleagues were dubious.

My Edwards sixth-graders, who came primarily from housing projects in East Boston and Charlestown, read on average at a fourth-grade level. When I asked students in the cafeteria, “What does William Shakespeare mean to you?” I got blank stares. But to my surprise, 30 students signed up, filling two classes.

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