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Thursday, Jan. 10, 2008

In Shakespeare’s Spirit

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Our culture is a disaster,” Rafe Esquith says. The fifth-grade teacher has been upping the ante in the innercity Los Angeles school where he’s taught for the past 25 years. In Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire, he levels his criticism at society’s veneration of wealth and celebrity.

“Children are constantly being sent messages that are not in their best interest to learn,” Esquith says. “We glorify and make heroes out of people who I don’t think are really that heroic. I love sports and pop music, but I don’t think I want some of those athletes and pop stars to be my guiding force in how I decide to run my life. I would prefer they look to their parents and maybe people trying to cure cancer to think about how to live their life.”

As far as he’s concerned, education seems to be divided into two equally dismal possibilities. “On one side you have those who’ve taken all the joy out of learning … they turn their classrooms into a Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist workhouse with kids grinding out math problems all day,” he says. “And then you have the other side, which is, ‘Well, we don’t want to take their childhood away, so we’re just going to let them play all day long and sit in front of a television set.’”

His book illuminates ways in which learning can be both intense and enjoyable—an ethos that abounds in his classroom, where students tackle high-schoollevel literature and math. Both teacher and students have gained national and international recognition, not least of all for the unabridged Shakespeare play they perform each year.

On Jan. 10 at 7 p.m., Esquith and his students come to Alverno College’s Wehr Hall, where Esquith will discuss his book and students will treat audiences to a performance of Shakespearean vignettes. For tickets, contact the Alverno Box Office at (414) 382-6044, or buy online at www.alverno.edu.

And if parents are looking for further opportunities to immerse children in the spirit of Shakespeare, they can do so at the Center Court of Mayfair Mall on Jan. 12 between 1 and 3 p.m. Milwaukee Shakespeare and Milwaukee Ballet team up to present “Mischief and Magic,” which will explore the theme of dance and duel in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

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