During my week off, I started each boat day making strong coffee and listening to the tepid dishwater news of NPR's Morning Edition (Bob Edwards is not all they have lost). One morning (was it Wednesday?) I perked up when they did a story on Hazel Haley, who was finally retiring after 69 years teaching of English literature to Florida high schoolers. Ms. Haley's record run with Macbeth, Hamlet, and Romeo and Juliet was sustained by that all-too-rare combination of humor, structure, connection, and caring that makes teaching that special reward for those who love it and do it well.
When asked how kids have changed during her three score and ten years of teaching, she said that they are essentially the same as when Adam and Eve "hatched them." She did note, however, that her students today are different from all the others of the past in that there is today not a whit of interest today in mastering a body of knowledge, any knowledge.
Why? Students know that test scores are what matters, and test scores are all that matters. Why should they waste their time learning something for which adults of the world have lost all regard? If the speaker of "to be or not to be" is the question (on the test), where does that leave the meaning, the understanding, of Hamlet's intimations?
Fortunately, Ms. Haley, the understanding you have built and shared will long survive the stupidity that would aim to kill it. Here's to you, then, Ms. Haley, and thank you for teaching us what the goddamn test can never measure:
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.