Why should William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet not be in the 9th grade curriculum? 

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liesljohnson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a matter of opinion, and many people will argue the opposite idea. (And of course, Romeo and Juliet is a staple of many 9th grade reading lists.) But here are a few ideas if you needed to support this view that it shouldn't be used in 9th grade classrooms.

1. Romeo and Juliet provides a very poor model of romantic love to teenagers who are just now coming of age and forming an understanding of what romantic love is. For ninth graders who are mostly fourteen and fifteen years old, they're reading a culturally celebrated text that seems to indicate that:

A. It's okay to fall in love with someone and make a commitment to that person just based on how beautiful that person is

B. It's okay to marry someone after only knowing them for less than a day

C. When things don't go smoothly in your relationship, you should whine and moan about it to anyone who will listen instead of trying to find a good solution for the problem.

2. Romeo and Juliet also seems to carry the message that suicide is an acceptable answer for life's problems. When you're a young teenager, even small problems can seem insurmountable, so 14- and 15-year-olds should be explicitly taught the opposite idea: that suicide is never the answer to a problem, and that there are healthy ways of dealing with conflict and drama. The fact that the teenagers in the play also murder each other really doesn't help, either. 

3. Shakespeare was a white European guy. We already have lots of texts from white European guys in the general curriculum, and with limited time on their hands and a world of other good literature to select from that represents more culturally balanced points of view, 9th grade teachers really don't need to teach Romeo and Juliet. In fact, by deleting the play from the curriculum, they could cover perhaps five wonderful short stories from many authors from around the world (male and female), or ten fantastic poems from world authors--all of which would do an equally good job at promoting reading comprehension, an understanding of building vocabulary from context, grasping themes and what they say about the human condition, etc.

4. One of the central arguments for keeping Romeo and Juliet in the 9th grade curriculum is that it's an integral part of our culture, and students need to be familiar with it and understand allusions to the play throughout their lives in other social and academic contexts. That's true enough. But Romeo and Juliet already pervades the culture; there's no need to slog through the text itself or waste weeks of class time on the play. Students can see one of the movies instead, or just read a summary of the play and a few of the often-cited quotes, and boom--they've already acquired the cultural knowledge they need. 

5. Another argument for keeping Romeo and Juliet in the curriculum is that Shakespeare's challenging text really builds students' ability to comprehend what they read. But do you know a single 9th grader who actually reads the original text? I don't. Maybe a few passages or even a whole scene might be read in the original language, but no 9th grader has the time or patience for reading the entire original play. They read the modern translations of the text, which presents no reading comprehension challenge at all. Or they watch the movie, or they watch a cartoon recap on YouTube. It's painful to read the text, and it's easy to get around having to do it.