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William Shakespeare's Facebook Page is depressing. Six of the top eleven stories on the NYT education page are about budget cuts, mismanaged funding, students with terrible eating habits, and misplaced priorities. Yikes. Maybe it's the fact that the end of the semester is on the horizon and I haven't un-clamped my jaw since I started trying to understand logistic regression (I've wikopedia'd the irrational number e about 7 times and I still don't get it) but I just don't want to hear about another crisis in education.

There comes a point when listening to crisis after crisis does not produce the kind of passionate, productive indignation that makes one want to go out and make it change. It creates an overwhelming sense of helplessness that in turn spawns unproductive anger, that then makes the fact that someone parked between two spots so your car can't fit and you have to park 20ft further from your house seem like the end of days.

So, no thank you, New York Times. I'm taking my readership elsewhere. To, where top story here is about creating Facebook profiles for Shakespearean characters. Delightful. Admittedly, I was late to the Facebook game and have yet to post a status update, or figure out how untag myself in pictures where my eyes are half-closed. But if I could be friends with Romeo Montegue and read a status update (created by a brilliant student) that says "I like it not here in Mantua. FML." I would learn.

In a world where Facebook has become the vehicle for disseminating practically every feeling, emotion, and life change (I found out about four engagements this year via Facebook. My opinions on that are for another post), what a fun way to have students connect to characters far away in time and space. Students get Facebook. They are fluent in its language, deftly updating status from their phones, thumbs moving so quickly they start to blur. But often, it's hard to see Romeo, or Viola, or Iago as real people. Everything about them seems different; language, dress, motivation, social cues. But are they really? What would be plucky Twelfth Night's Maria's favorite quote? What would she post after watching her fake love note fall into Malvolio's hands, and totally convince him to act like a fool? "Indeed, my jest hath succeeded in its cause. LOL"

There are some of my favorite characters who I could imagine with long and detailed Facebook profiles such as Marianne Dashwood from Jane Austin's Sense and Sensibility. Her favorites would, of course, include Shakespeare's Sonnets, Tristan and Isolde, The King Arthur Saga. Her status update would be "OMG. Is there such a man in all the world as handsome and gallant as John Willoughby?" My very favorite, Adam Trask of Steinbeck's East of Eden probably wouldn't have a profile, that's just how he is. But Lee might. His status update might include "Quote of the day: 'If you understand, things are just as they are; if you do not understand, things are just as they are.' Think about it." He would probably write on Sam Hamilton's wall every time Adam gets too depressed to care for his twins, entreating Sam to come over and talk some sense into him: "Adam's sitting in his lawn chair staring into space again. You need to get over here ASAP."

I could do this all day. And while I've always loved the poetry of Juliet's lilting language as was written, I can understand those who don't, and bringing her to a current time and vernacular makes one feel closer to her, like one could have been friends with her. And that, I think, it the key to appreciating her. Once someone is my friend, I'll read any language she wants me to.

I am very grateful to the writer of this lesson plan for reminding me that education isn't about the budget cuts, or the politics, or the "misplaced priorities". It's about becoming friends with a fictional girl who, over 400 years ago, fell in love. Her story ended in tragedy, but she left me with the gift of learning from her. The wonderful part is, whenever I miss her, I just turn to page one.

Posted by Nastasia Lawton on March 29, 2011 10:49 AM

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