What would Shakespeare say about general studies courses?

For many years, I have enjoyed reading the musings and insights of literary figures cascading over the centuries, spilling forth their perennial truths of life lived in all of its splashes of color. The goal of this essay is to discover what would Shakespeare say about the many facets of education we encounter daily.

  1. Education can open doors, create opportunities, and catch someone’s attention in hiring you. It can expand our horizons, update our skills in this ever-changing and unpredictable economy, and save us from potential regret, frustration, and failure.   Education has a way of changing the trajectory of our lives, rattling our psychic securities, providing for our families, and fulfilling our yearning to be more than we presently are. Shakespeare’s Richard 3 knew this well as he uttered: “A horse (education), a horse (education), my kingdom for a horse (education).” With education, the opportunities loom large on the horizon despite these difficult economic times. More marketable skills better prepare us for the future where 25% of the careers that don’t yet exist will exist in 2015, and where 25% of the careers that do exist today will not by 2015. If Shakespeare worked for the job corps center he might offer this advice: “The world is my oyster, which with sword (education) I will open.” (MWW)


  1. “…we are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.” (Tempest) Education often comes with great sacrifices, struggles, frustrations, and second-guessing as to whether the financial and personal investments are worth the input of time, energy, and commitment. I am reminded of a single mother I had in class struggling to raise two children, working part time, having few support systems, and trying to hand in her assignments on time. Often, it was obvious that she was very tired, yet, she was motivated, handed in quality work, and others in class benefited from her carefully chosen words of wisdom. She was determined to pursue her dream of obtaining her associates degree even if it might take her several years. She dreams the “impossible dream” for her and her children so that they may have a better life. Sometimes she was interrupted by a text message or the unexpected ring of the phone as she fumbled to check her message. Embarrassed, she quickly left the classroom to speak with her child who was calling her from home. She returned with frustration and concern written on her face.   Class ended as she hurried for home in her car which had broken down earlier that day.   Shakespeare wonders if her life will be “rounded with a sleep.” Perhaps, not this evening. She had an essay due tomorrow for another class.


  1. “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown…” (Henry IV).   Education can hone our leadership skills, sharpen our insights into the workings of human nature, and better prepare us for managerial positions. There is no doubt that having a titled position can wear very heavy on us as we navigate through the conflicts, misunderstandings, miscommunications, and the multiplicity of responsibilities that scratch the underbelly of our role as managers or supervisors.   Perhaps we are already in a managerial position or are being sent to school to enhance our leadership skills. I have been a fan of John Wooden, possibly one of the most successful basketball coaches of the 20th century.  Over the years, and still in his late nineties, he espouses his lessons in leadership: 1. Good values attract good people; 2. Love is the most powerful four-letter word; 3. Call yourself a teacher; 4. Emotion is your enemy; 5. It takes 10 hands to make a basket; 6. Little things make big things happen; 7. Make each day your masterpiece; 8. The carrot is mightier than the stick; 9. Make greatness attainable by all; 10. Seek significant change; 11. Don’t look at the scoreboard; and 12. Adversity is your asset. ( www.coach.johnwooden.com). If Shakespeare were to review these 12 lessons he might comment: “To be or not to be, that is the question.” (Hamlet).


  1. Education, especially general studies courses, challenge our biases, prejudices, and narrow-mindedness that imprisons us because of our ignorance, be it invincible or not. I could hear Shakespeare respond to the student with prejudicial leanings who challenges the facts and figures of solid research, “Out, damned spot!” (MacBeth) It is the dismantling of one’s errors of perception: unwarranted assumptions, the either/or outlook, mindless conformity, absolutism, and relativism and errors of procedure, such as: biased consideration of evidence, double standard, hasty conclusion, overgeneralization, oversimplification, and stereotyping. Shakespeare offers us a caution, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” (Hamlet)


   General studies courses are universal in scope, demonstrating the interconnection and unity of all knowledge. These courses do not duplicate or replicate as much as they complement and supplement one another by painting a portrait that is larger than the sum of the parts. Shakespeare would agree, “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” (Hamlet).


   Perhaps most important of all, in my estimation, general studies courses provide an opportunity to develop self-knowledge and understanding. John Wooden, in his pyramid of success relative to leadership, states that loyalty is an important dimension of leadership, that is, “Be true to yourself and true to those you lead,” Wooden espouses. Shakespeare would definitely agree -“This above all – to thine own self be true.” (Hamlet)


  1. Finally, displaced and unemployed workers are more commonplace and now a part of our academic community due to closings, downsizings, non-renewable dealerships in the automotive industry, and a host of other variables too numerous to mention. In 1991, I had an article accepted by a national magazine, the Employee Assistance Program Digest, entitled, “When The Plant Shuts Down.” The article detailed how our employee assistance program worked with this company in developing a five-fold model to effectively handle the relocation and closing. Needless to say, we were very aware of and sensitive to the whole array of human emotions and reactions that were surfacing and creating very low morale among the staff and employees. Ironically, 23 years later at our academic institution, the wheels are in motion to help transition the displaced workers into our academic community and to prepare them for the 21st We need to be welcoming, supportive, understanding, and empathic or as Shakespeare would say, “The quality of mercy is not strained, it droppeth as gentle rain from heaven.” During the last semester, I had a couple of displaced workers who had been with their respective companies for more than 20 years.     They thought they would retire from the company and certainly there was no need to re-tool or update or prepare for the uncertainties of life. Here is what one of them wrote on the course/instructor evaluation: “I absolutely appreciated this class…the first on my journey to meet my goal of earning my law enforcement degree. Your comments and points of view were thought provoking and enlightening. I appreciated the easy-going atmosphere established from our very first class. It was a seamless transition into college after many years in the trenches.”


Shakespeare was right, hopefully when he wrote: “All is well that ends well.” (AWEW).


I guess that is one reason why I really enjoy attending graduations and watching each individual walk across the stage which are the results of dogged determination, unreal sacrifices, and the unfailing support of family, friends, staff, personnel, and instructors here at our technical college. Again, Shakespeare cuts to the quick: “All the world is a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and entrances.” (AYL) and “Goodnight, Goodnight! Parting is such sweet sorrow.” ( Romeo and Juliet).

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