Sacramento Teacher Skips ‘White’ Shakespeare for African Oral Tradition

African Shakespeare (Adrian Dennis / AFP / Getty)
Adrian Dennis / AFP / Getty

A white Sacramento high school English teacher is refusing to teach Shakespeare to her minority students because she does not believe American teenagers should be subjected to reading classic literary works by a dead white man.

In a guest op-ed article published in the Washington Post, public educator Dana Dusbiber who teaches at Luther Burbank High School–the largest inner-city school in the Golden State’s capital–admits that her proposal to “leave Shakespeare out of the English curriculum entirely, will offend many,” but says that has not stopped her from refusing to teach such classic literary works like Othello, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

She suggested that school systems should teach students of color about their own cultures, such as “the oral tradition out of Africa,” which she argues “includes an equally relevant commentary on human behavior.”  She also suggested teaching stories from Latin America or Southeast Asia, among other parts of the world, and purging what she refers to as the “Eurocentric” tendency inherent in Shakespeare’s teachings.

Even when it comes to her white students, Dusbiber says, the dead, white Bard has limited relevance in the classroom. “If we only teach white students, it is our imperative duty to open them up to a world of diversity through literature that they may never encounter anywhere else in their lives.”

Her suggestion to remove Shakespeare, which is reportedly a requirement in the Common Core program, was met with much protest. The same day he Post published Dusbiber’s op-ed, they ran a rebuttal from English teacher Matthew Truesdale from Wren High School in Piedmont, South Carolina.

Truesdale argued that Dusbiber is doing a “disservice” to all English teachers, and said it was absurd for her to present the Bard’s classical accounts of the human experience as being relevant only to life in Britain 450 years ago:

So what Shakespeare wrote 450 years ago is not applicable to her teaching today?  Ethnically diverse students don’t foolishly fall in love and over-dramatize every facet of that experience?  Or feel jealousy or rage?  Or fall victim to discrimination?  Or act desperately out of passion?  To dismiss Shakespeare on the grounds that life 450 years ago has no relation to life today is to dismiss every religious text, every piece of ancient mythology (Greek, African, Native American, etc.), and for that matter, everything that wasn’t written in whatever time defined as “NOW.” And yes– Shakespeare was in fact a white male. But look at the characters of Othello and Emila (among others), and you’ll see a humane, progressive, and even diverse portrayal of the complexities of race and gender.

Follow Adelle Nazarian on Twitter @AdelleNaz and on Facebook.


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