30 years ago, I would have told you that Macbeth, in fact any play or poem by Shakespeare, was a complete waste of time. Admittedly I was 17 years old, and Macbeth was just one of many academic obstacles that I needed to overcome before becoming a free citizen.
Three decades later I would like to think that I am wiser and yet would like to reiterate my position on teaching the many works of Shakespeare in secondary school. Simply put I battle to think of a bigger waste of time than having fresh young minds suffocated under the hefty weight of the Bards cryptic prose.
Damn it what are we doing!
I have a son who is 16 years old, and he has a wonderful mind. We sit at the dinner table and debate whether A Tik-tok star with a gazillion followers is better than a 17-year-old who is getting paid more money per month than the GDP of the African nation that birthed him for kicking around a modern-day pig’s bladder. He shares, with Gen Z confidence, his views on everything from Black Lives Matter to Covid vaccines and if Caster Semenya should be allowed to compete as a woman athlete at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Fresh fertile brain cells ready to blossom and connect. The mental building blocks slotting into place allowing further thoughts and opinions to form and reform. His considerations extending in time and breadth unlocking all the best parts of the human mind. This is his renaissance.
And at this majestic time with the sun radiating its warm energy onto the soft skins of those who will shape the future what do we do? We suffocate them with a heavy blanket of soot and cobwebbed covered words because someone, somewhere, sometime, thought it was good idea.
My rant, while directed at an old man who wrote some plays and who appears to have been relatively popular in his time, is more concerned with our apathetic disposition. We just bloody well revert to the conventional wisdom. We do not want to upset anyone. Heaven forbid we try and change anything. Even this little scribble of a piece, is just a vent without the conviction to do anything. The pen is mighty than the sword? I call bullshit on that. You still need to get out there and do something. Harshly worded letters should be sent to the UN as well as the other important organisations entrusted with our wellbeing.
Back to education and extending my tirade beyond dusty playwrights to the subject we call English. If the objective is to get teenage boys to give up on reading, watching plays and to hate the subject then we are succeeding. Somewhere we forgot that learning a language is more an art than it is science. We should be less worried about the rules. Who really who cares about whether I put a comma in the wrong place? Perhaps the subject should be called ‘Communication’ rather, and young minds should be encouraged to create new words and express themselves with youthful abandon. It feels like we need a Fauvist-like movement in the English language or perhaps there has already been one, but I am unaware of it because my education was limited to the ‘set-work’.
As I sit across from this half-boy half-man, I cannot help wondering what he will become. How will the Covid-pandemic, load-shedding, Macbeth and more importantly our conversations at the dinner table shape him? In truth my hope is that he will think independently, and have the courage to forge his own path to contentment and happiness. As for me and this expressionist piece I would like to end with, for me at least, a more interesting, colorful and relevant scribe in Oscar Wilde, who said; “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they will kill you.”