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High school students should not be reading Shakespeare. (Op-Ed)

William Shakespeare is the most well-known playwright and poet. In fact, he is so well-known, that most high school students cannot name another poet. Students are taught about sonnets and iambic pentameter, and that is as far as poetic education goes; they have a very narrow, suffocated view of poetic form. Not only are students not ready for the advanced nature of the archaic diction, but they also aren’t interested in stories that they cannot relate to.

“I hate poetry,” is a common sentiment in the American public school system. Students find Shakespearean sonnets antiquated, boring, and restrictive. I was one of those students; I hated Shakespeare because I was too young to appreciate his unique, clever wordplay. I remember reading Romeo and Juliet in class and struggling to grasp the context and meaning of each passage. I grew to believe that I hated poetry, and I vehemently hated poetry.

I was not exposed to diverse poetic forms and modern poets until college. Yeats, Elliot, Angelou, McCrae, Neruda, Shelley, Cummings, Lorde, and Wilde were like a breath of fresh air. I had been so close-minded about poetry, and I began to devour it. I found love and loss between the couplets and the beauty of the ghazal, the pantoum, and free verse. Villanelles, a highly technical poetic form, became my favorite. I did not write a single sonnet until graduate school.

When I went into substitute teaching, I would share that I was in a Master of Fine Arts program in Creative Writing with an emphasis in Poetry, and students would grimace. They too hated poetry due to the outdated English curriculum. It had not changed at all; they were still dreading Romeo and Juliet. They thought MacBeth was stupid. “You write like Shakespeare all day?” they asked me, their brows raised, and their lips pursed in judgment. It isn’t cool to like Shakespeare in high school, and I had the same experience.

Poetry is a dying art in the English curriculum. Kids don’t care about a love story between two people who do not know each other and end up committing suicide. Kids don’t care about a crazed Scottish king who is led to destruction by his power-hungry wife. It’s not relatable. At 24 years of age, I still rather despise Shakespeare. The ability to appreciate his plays comes with age, and high schoolers simply aren’t mature enough to truly understand the complex diction and form of the sonnet.

Let students read something they want to read, something that they can relate to and truly connect with. Let them read Vuong, Shire, Nye, Hirschfield, and Glück. The current curriculum only teaches children to hate poetry.


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