At 10, hungry for the masterpieces

No one will ever convince me that Mrs. Arnold and Miss Crankshaw weren't quite brilliant.

Both teachers came to mind this week as I thought about our lead story on ever-younger students rising to and loving a challenge – in this case, reading Shakespeare.

Much like our story's seventh-grade teacher, who took on "Othello" despite parental concerns that it might be too hard, Mrs. Arnold introduced me and my colleagues to "Macbeth" as she guided us through the fifth grade.

I can't remember concerns that we might not "get it," or that staging the play might prove problematic if not downright scary. Instead, our fearless leader drew on what we were certain was centuries of first-hand experience and handed us a condensed version of the play. She read out our assignments in her deep, raspy voice – and rehearsals got under way for our production.

Miss Crankshaw was much newer to the classroom, but she apparently saw no reasons her third-graders shouldn't be conversant in European art of the 16th to 19th-century. Each Monday, she'd post a copy of a painting in a corner of our classroom, along with some notes. Our instructions were to spend some time with both before Friday afternoon, when she would stop the clock and draw us into an end-of-week art history chat that not one kid ever said was boring.

I learned more about Shakespeare and painting as the years passed, of course. But to this day, when I see a Degas, Miss Crankshaw hovers in thought. And while I may need refreshers about details of other Shakespeare plays, "Macbeth" is fairly well entrenched – in part because of the fun of being a fifth-grader who helped bring Birnam Wood to Dunsinane.

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