Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Hobart Shakespeareans

The Hobart Shakespeareans, 52 minutes, New Video Group, 2006

I said, "The Hobart Shakespeareans are the stuff of legends. Their annual play must be something to behold."

I finished reading Rafe Esquith's Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire last month. While talking about the book over lunch recently, some teaching colleagues told me they had seen this student group at a convention and had t-shirts signed by all the kids. I was so jealous.

The Hobart Shakespeareans
was originally a documentary on the PBS POV program.
It is really quite amazing to watch what Rafe Esquith does in his 5th grade classroom with kids from one of the toughest neighborhoods in Los Angeles. The kids begin their day early (long before the official start of the school day) and attend on a year-round schedule. The classroom motto is "No Shortcuts." Esquith admonishes some kids who have been sharing answers in a straight forward manner.

They work on the play after school.

The interviews with the students themselves are enlightening. One boy recalls his fourth grade teacher's impatience with his inability to understand certain points and contrasts Esquith's willingness to explain and reteach it over and over again. The kids call him "Rafe" not "Mr. Esquith."

Living in a school district where To Kill a Mockingbird, Huck Finn and Shakespeare are not taught until high school, I can hear the question about matching these works with fifth graders but Esquith knows his kids may never make it to high school and he is determined to touch their lives with this literature. Watching tears roll down the cheeks of kids who are moved by the lines of Shakespeare or the predicament of Huck Finn made me a believer.

College pennants from Yale, Harvard, USC, UCLA cover the walls of the classroom as proof of what his former students have achieved and as encouragement for his current students. Esquith's attitude and classroom personae are uplifting but he is realistic. While talking to a group of teachers in Houston, he discusses "No Child Left Behind" and the effort that is required from the kids, themselves, and the fact that some of them are unwilling or unable to give that effort.

Classroom visits from Michael York and Ian McKellen have the students rapt and wide-eyed. I loved hearing York tell the kids that in Shakespeare's time an audience attended a performance to "hear" a play, NOT "see" a play.

If you are connected to schools as a teacher, an administrator, or as a parent, you must see this program.

Just get it.

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