Canadian School Board Suspends Teaching the Merchant of Venice

The Board of Education of Waterloo County (Ontario), one of the largest school boards in Canada, has suspended teaching of Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” pending a decision by the Education Ministry or the Ontario Human Rights Commission as to whether the Shakespeare play is anti-Semitic.

But the coalition of Jewish and non-Jewish parents which had complained to the Board that Jewish children were taunted and harassed in classes where the play was taught, protested last week that the school board went too far.

“It’s censorship of the worst kind,” said Dr. Mona Zentner, leader of the inter-faith parents’ coalition which wanted “The Merchant of Venice” eliminated only from the curriculum of intermediate grades 7 to 10. “They’re finally recognizing there’s a problem but its not what we wanted,” Zentner said.

The Board of Education voted 10-8 to remove the play from the intermediate grades but also banned it, at least temporarily, from the higher grades. The issue, which has been simmering since 1966, came to a head in Waterloo last month.

Jewish and Christian pupils described prejudice apparently fueled by the play in which Shylock, a Jewish money-lender, demands a pound of flesh from a Christian debtor. According to the pupils, Jewish classmates were called names, had swastikas carved on their desks and had pennies tossed at them.

The Waterloo County case was the second of its kind in Ontario. Earlier, the Lakehead County Board of Education removed the play from the ninth grade curriculum after parents protested.

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