This Play is Not the Thing

The Board of Education has suspended teaching “The Merchant of Venice” in the high schools of Waterloo County, western Ontario, until it formulates new guidelines in conjunction with its recently established committee on race relations and a parents group which says the play has inspired racism.

The group of parents, Jewish and non-Jewish, is headed by Mona Zentner, a professor at the University of Waterloo. They asked the Board to move the Shakespeare classic from the ninth to the twelfth grade curriculum. According to Zentner, Jewish ninth graders complained of being called “little Shylock” and “Jew moneylender” by classmates.

Board members discussed the controversy at a recent meeting where several suggested that the parents were over-reacting. One noted that the play has been taught successfully in ninth grade for decades and there was no reason to change.

A consultant on English literature for the Board said he believes the play is appropriate for ninth graders and offers a valuable basis for classroom discussion of racsim. But Zentner said “The idea that the kids need to learn about prejudice in schools is very generous. But they already get it for free outside.”

The decision to suspend probably means the play won’t be taught when school opens in September, but a spokesman for the Board’s English program said he hopes the guidelines will be ready in time.

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