Hamlet as Ego Piffle: "Words without thoughts never to heaven go"
The other day I'm reading the New York Times Book Review and there on page 19 is an ad that starts with "Enhance your child's brilliance with SHAKESPEARE". This was an ad for a book entitled "How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare", written by playwright Ken Ludwig, with a lot of famous names in the theater world attached as fawning quotes. My eyes rolled. It wasn't the Shakespeare part, it was the "enhance your child's brilliance" part. It's the assumption that your special little snowflake is, first of all, "brilliant" which given the odds, much as every indulgent parent in America would like to think so, just ain't that likely. That doesn't stop them for one minute, though... playdates with only the best children from the best families, soccer at 4, (see "screaming hordes of toddlers chase a ball for no reason while tired parents take photos with their iPhones"), enrolled in the best private schools within two weeks of birth, gymanastics, tutors, dance, academic summer camps, trips to Africa to "help" build a school in Zimbabwe (photo ops for college admission) and so it goes ad nauseum. Somehow the tagline above pushed my tolerance level for this crap into the red zone.
For a couple of decades now, I've watched the results of all this orchestrated effort in child-rearing and considering the effort and money expended, the payoff isn't what you'd expect. A startling percentage of these kids are the rudest, most entitled and self-absorbed creatures on the planet, and it isn't just the well-to-do whose children don't measure up, it affects everyone else's as well, because the wanna-be crowd is huge. Educated by rote, admitted to college with cheated-on SAT scores and professionally written essays, they graduate with law and finance degrees (somehow), or the latest shallowly designed degrees in urban renewal and social justice (like they'd know zip about either one besides what they memorized for exams) and are going to be the architects of the next 60 years and I am literally sickened by what that could mean. Hopefully most of them will have children raised as meaninglessly as they were and move to the suburbs - driving BMWs, having affairs and shopping at Whole Foods, just numbers and sweater lint, but some will fake it well enough to impress somebody and make it out and that's scary.
Ludwig's book isn't helping. The basic premise is to have your child memorize lines of Shakespeare's works, and apparently make you look like an erudite patriarch whose genes are starchy with brilliance yourself. According to the ad, Hal Holbrook gushingly said, "I have been in Ken's home. His children really do know Shakespeare." No, Hal, they really do parrot out memorized lines of Shakespeare, "knowing" isn't going on here, because that implies knowledge and comprehension, which isn't happening for Ludwig's 6-year-old or yours, either, from this book's instructions. If I was sitting in somebody's living room and had to listen to their doted upon kid vomit forth Hamlet's to be or not to be, I hope there's a .38 nearby to shoot myself with, or at least a lot of whiskey on hand. If the bard was alive to see what his words have led to, he'd likely feel the same.
All I can hope is there are people out there with young children or are planning to have some, that have truly functioning brains. I know a few, and that hope is justified. They know that raising children, brilliant or not, requires not all the "advantages" you can give them, but the time, love, attention and caring you can give them. Don't send them to cooking classes, have them make cookies with you; take them to the woods yourself, don't send them to a camp so someone else can do it; talk to them, don't leave it to a teacher or therapist; play baseball in the backyard, watch the stars from a blanket in the grass, listen to Beethoven and Led Zeppelin, rescue baby birds, raise chickens, grow flowers and tomatoes, teach them to play poker, dress up and put on a show, go to a play, read to them.
Above all, read to them...from the Runaway Bunny to Peter Pan to Harry Potter, or Shakespeare if you like, and they'll soak it up. Try Illustrated Classics and have them read for themselves - yes, they still print Shakespeare's works as graphic novels. If they learn to love words, they'll memorize them without even trying. One of my sons so loved "As You Like It" when he was 8, sitting as close to the stage as he could get at Shakespeare in the park, he spent all summer quoting half of Jacques's lines. And no, I didn't coach him, Ken.
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young had it right - "Teach your children well...and feed them on your dreams." Not your egos or your frustrations. If you follow Ludwig's model, Shakespeare had that right -" The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children." The Merchant of Venice (3.5.1)
With love and hope, Raven