The rap on William Shakespeare has long resembled the rap on,
say, broccoli: It's supposed to be good for you, but not
But at Far Brook School in this New York City suburb,
actor-turned-teacher Jim Glossman tries to impress upon his
students that Shakespeare is "just words in a funny order, they're
not funny words."
"Instead of saying 'go out the door,' he says, 'out the door you
go'," says Mr. Glossman, the school's drama director. "As the
students start to get used to that, they start to understand it
In a nation whose classrooms often glance past Shakespearean
prose, this independent elementary and junior high school is an
oddity. For the past 50 years, Far Brook - founded by a Shakespeare
aficionado named Winifred Moore - has woven the Bard's words
through every classroom and subject.
Starting with small doses in nursery school, students' careers
at Far Brook build to the final act: Their eighth-grade performance
of "The Tempest" or "Midsummer Night's Dream," which alternate
years and are performed as part of graduation. This year "The
Tempest" will be performed June 11 and 12.
That, says headmistress Mary Wearn Wiener, breeds a level of
confidence in students who have spent eight to 10 years strutting
and fretting many hours upon the stage in front of parents and
"You have to have a lot of poise to pull that off," says Mrs.
Wiener, who has led the school for 18 years and taught here since
1966. "So, they leave here feeling independent and empowered."
As if to prove the point, eighth-grader Brad Cox exuded the
confidence of a future lawyer or politician during a recent
"Each year, Shakespeare gets easier. It's not work anymore, it's
fun," Brad says. "Now, I go home and explain it to my parents."
Students begin acting out Shakespeare's works at ages 5 and 6.
Unlike most people's experience with Shakespeare, these kids see it
as in-your-face theater before they see it as "literature."
Sonnets with snacktime
"It's like trying to read the word 'red' if you've never seen
anything that was red before," says Glossman, stubble-faced and
rumpled during a recent rehearsal for this year's play, "The
Tempest." "They start hearing Shakespeare when they're little kids.
So, they've already laughed and cried at it before they knew it was
a book - before they knew it was good for them."
There has been much debate in recent years about whether
academia has turned its back on Shakespeare. Georgetown University
in Washington was vilified last year for allowing English majors to
graduate without studying Shakespeare. The outcry prompted a study
released in December that found that two-thirds of the nation's top
70 colleges don't require their English majors to study Shakespeare.
At the pre-high school level, there is less debate because
Shakespeare never got a strong toe-hold.
But an increasingly noisy chorus is insisting that an early diet
of Shakespeare's poems and plays infuses students with a lifelong
appreciation for art, literature, drama, and even themselves.
"We like to say you can graduate from University X never having
read a word of Shakespeare, but you can't graduate from Far Brook,"
says Ed Solecki, director of Far Brook's junior high.
Far Brook may be riding a wave in which Shakespeare is "spilling
downward into the younger grades," says Janet Field-Pickering, head
of education at Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington. …