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Collaborating with Shakespeare

From “Shakespeare gives the latest strategy in anti-bullying in schools” in The Denver Post:

Shakespeare is the latest strategy in combating bullying in America’s schools, but the idea was not an immediate hit. “When we first told people, they said, ‘What? That’s weird. How do those two things go together?’” said Jane Grady, assistant director for the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at the University of Colorado.

But after a month of performances of “Twelfth Night” in 25 schools across Colorado, which were followed by workshops in which kids talked about the character Malvolio and other bullies in the play, the results surprised the experts. [...]

Bullying is the most common form of violence in the US, with one-third of students bullied each month, according to the National Education Association. An incident happens every 7 minutes in every kind of school: rural, suburban and urban.

The idea that 17th-century Shakespeare plays can be relevant to the contemporary bullying problem came from the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. [...] “The idea hit me that in ‘Twelfth Night,’ everyone mistreats each other,” Orr said. “It’s like a practical joke gone too far, and I thought, ‘Let’s talk about bullying.’”

They approached the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, just a few blocks down the street in Boulder.

The young participants discuss how conflicts and lessons from the original Shakespeare text are still relevant today — one student likened writing a false love letter to engaging in cyber-bullying. And more than that, the program gives students a chance to witness both cruelty and kindness through characters that are both intricate and timeless. Bullying education on a TV show can feel preachy or dull. But when that same message comes through in a play that was written over 400 years? Well, that has to be pretty striking.

But not only is the core idea clever, it represents a great intersection between two organizations that, on the surface, would seem to have very little in common. We’ve chatted about this on Good Works several times, but collaborations (and unexpected collaborations, at that) are becoming more prevalent. And while, in other cases, a rise in collaborations is a byproduct of the economy, that overall trend could result in more creative, cross-disciplinary programs like this one.

Speaking of which, the other great element at play here (pun somewhat intended) is the introduction of cross-disciplinary education. Education is exciting when kids learn to draw connections, to recognize patterns, to bring seemingly-disparate ideas together. And that is precisely what this program does. It teaches fairly young students that you don’t just read plays for English class. You can read plays to deepen your understanding of eras past and to evaluate the progress of your own world. You can read plays to understand why we are the way we are — and what we can do better.

What do you think? What are some exciting collaborations, both between organizations and across genres, that you have seen?

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