Archive for Sunday, February 18, 2001

Teachable moment

February 18, 2001


To the editor:

I am writing in response to the front page article concerning anti-Semitism within Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice". There could be no disputing the fact that the character of Shylock is offensive and inflammatory and definitely deserves to be viewed as anti-Semitic. However, I am always concerned about censorship of any kind, and to remove this from the required reading is a form of censorship that could always backfire.

The character as Shakespeare has written him, could be such a wonderful classroom teaching point regarding anti-Semitism, bigotry, racism, tolerance and diversity. If however, the course is taught without encouraging this type of critical thinking, or simply without mentioning the fact that this is anti-Semitism, then the teacher is not teaching. It is as though one would read Huckleberry Finn without discussions of slavery, racism, and the treatment of African Americans.

Classical, as well as contemporary, art and literature, are riddled with anti-Semitism, misogynistic and racist content, sometimes subtle, sometimes glaring. It is important that our children learn about historical injustices, and the mind-set that fostered them. To remove these from our reading lists misses an opportunity at teaching diversity and tolerance, and for inspiring students to evaluate offensive writings and make vital decisions about their own lives and how they view the world. Our children need opportunities to learn about Jews and Judaism, as well as other cultures/religions/traditions other than white Anglo-Saxon protestants. They need to realize that our current level of cultural tolerance and diversity is a new and fragile thing, and can only be nurtured by looking critically at our past, not ignoring it.

Diane Whitten,


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