TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE – THAT IS THE QUESTION

Younger teachers may not know of The Three Degrees which was a popular pop group from the 1960s whose most well-known hits included “When Will I See You Again”. The same teachers may also not know of Kevin Bacon, a popular actor for over thirty years featuring in hit films such as ‘Footloose’, ‘JFK’, ‘Flatliners’, and ‘Hollow Man’. However he is also known for a game that has developed, called the ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon’, which followed the theory of “The Six Degrees of Separation”, first proposed in 1929 by the Hungarian writer Frigyes, that we can all be connected to any other person through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries.

While the purpose of the game is to make a connection between apparently unconnected things, so we as teachers are called to do precisely that in our classrooms. We are crucially called to make a connection with our pupils to what we teach; we need to make our teaching relevant. Just as we as teachers may write in the margin of our pupils’ work such comments as “So what?” and “Read the question”, in order to ensure their work is relevant to what is being asked, so we must ensure our own work is relevant. We need to make it relevant by six degrees of connection, not of separation. We even need to make Shakespeare’s plays relevant to them – or to misquote one of his characters, Hamlet, “to see or not to see, that is the question.”

The first stage of connection should be relating our subject with other subjects – our subject should not be seen in isolation. The play “Hamlet” can easily be related to history, geography, religion, among other subjects. The second stage would perhaps be the most important one, whereby we must relate our subject to the children; in that regard it needs to be relevant to their situation, their ability, their interests and in their language. So we can make it relevant by likening situations in “Hamlet” to cricket (do I play safe or strike out boldly?) or music (one of The Three Degrees’ songs is entitled “Givin’ Up Givin’ In” which may be an interesting summary of Hamlet’s decision while another of their songs, “The Runner”, might be a fair description of how Hamlet handled the situation he faced: “I’ve got this need eating away at my soul, An insurmountable need that I just can’t control, You created this fire, when the flame got too hot, You turned and walked away.”)

Thirdly, we need to make our teaching relevant to life, real life, their life. Children today experience tough decisions, like Hamlet, and perhaps Hamlet’s process of thinking might help them come to positive and helpful solutions. Fourthly, and related to that, we need to make our teaching relevant to today. “Hamlet” may have been written four hundred years ago but the issues faced are still very relevant today; indeed many of Shakespeare’s plays have been portrayed in modern ways – “Julius Caesar” was performed with soldiers in Nazi uniforms; “Macbeth” has a modern production in an African context called “Umabatha”. In the classic film about teaching, “Dead Poets’ Society”, the teacher speaks Macbeth’s line in the accent of John Wayne, the legendary cowboy actor.

The fifth stage of connection must be to make our teaching relevant to Zimbabwe. One school presented Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” as “The Vendor of Harare”, with kombis taking the place of boats. In that regard, we can make Hamlet’s troubled soliloquy, “To be or not to be, that is the question”, relevant to situations we may face here in Zimbabwe – do I let things happen or do I do something myself? And lastly, we must connect our teaching to the spiritual dimension of our pupils – where does our subject fit in the greater scheme of things?

When our pupils see that what we are teaching is relevant (and not purely academic) then they will apply themselves more and they will understand more clearly. We must make these connections for them. In the words of one of the characters in “Hamlet” with regard to these six stages of connection, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.” It might appear madness but it is not. The Three Degrees may have been formed in the 1960s but they are still going strong today; they are still relevant today. Shakespeare is still relevant to children, today, real life, Zimbabwe. We need to start our teaching from where our pupils currently are and lead them to the topic, rather than the other way round. And as Hamlet, concluded, “Let be”! Let us do this! And the wonderful thing is that you do not need six (or Three) Degrees or Diplomas to understand or achieve this.