Love's labour's lost on me, Miss

25th May 2007 at 01:00
An English teacher is fiercely committed to imbuing pupils with a love for the literary canon. But her pupils are united in their hatred of Shakespeare.

Mainstream approaches would regard this as a purely pedagogical issue. The teacher would reflect on different ways of achieving her goal. What teaching methods is she using? Is the play age-appropriate? Can she make it more relevant to her pupils?

By contrast, Peter Taubman, of Brooklyn College in New York, advocates a psychoanalytic approach, which questions the assumptions inherent in the situation: is it right to like Shakespeare and wrong to dislike him? The teacher would then examine her own motives: why is she so intent on imbuing pupils with a love for Shakespeare?

She would look back at her past, trying to work out where these motives originated. What importance did the literary canon have for her when she was growing up? What did it mean to her parents? How did the meaning they ascribed to it affect her? Equally, she would examine why it is not enough to love Shakespeare herself. Why does she feel the need to transfer this love to her pupils?

Professor Taubman insists that this does not preclude other forms of critical reflection. He acknowledges that the teacher's opinion of Shakespeare may be based on a profound knowledge of his plays and their contribution to world literature.

But, he states: "Such questions force us to look within, to explore what our role is in the situation, and not be so quick to locate in others or external events the causes of what we do.

"Such a project allows us to attend to those disquieting feelings, histories, images and associations that are often ignored in conversations about teaching. It explores how teaching can be shot through with aggression, anxiety and demands for love."

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