How to Think Like Shakespeare | Book Review

How to Think Like Shakespeare by Scott Newstok is a compelling read for Shakespeare lovers, educators, and those interested in improving their personal critical thinking skills. The concept behind the book is an examination of how Elizabethan grammar schools taught their students to think and create in ways that would still be useful to us today. I say “would be” because, as Newstok points out, many of these skills have been lost over time. In an effort to improve education and adapt it to modern needs, we have lost some of the basic thinking skills necessary for long term success.

Newstok models his book in the same way he would like to see education. First, he builds his argument by starting with the more concrete ideas (critical thinking, the goals of education, and craft) to the more complicated ideas (seeing imitation and limitations as a way to enhance our creative abilities). Then, Newstok makes the wise decision to use the words of the brilliant minds which came before him. The quotes punctuate each argument in a compelling way, bringing weight to Newstok’s own words. These two approaches prove to be assets to his book and illustrate his point in an effective way.

Throughout the entire book Newstok approaches thinking as a craft, similar to carpentry or tailoring. This concept is critical to adjusting our approach to education and bringing it back to the basics that produced the great minds of the renaissance. Shakespeare’s school days were spent translating Latin into English and back again, imitating the writing styles of others, and arguing various points of view. These skills prepared him for success as a playwright. He spent his youth dissecting the writing of others to really understand what made it good. This helped him to find his own voice and create truly amazing pieces of writing.

Teachers, parents, and students have been saying for years that the passion has been taken out of teaching and learning. We teach to tests now and, as Newstok puts it, “all intellectual pursuits are more qualitative than any bubble sheet can ever gauge” (pg. 7). By embracing some of the more traditional aspects of education, we can unlock a student’s true potential by creating a dialogue between student and teacher. Teaching is a craft, an art, as is thinking. We need to remember that.

How to Think Like Shakespeare makes the reader think about thinking and think about how we should teach thinking. Newstok makes this compelling by weaving ideas together to create a tapestry of ideas. It is an interesting, easy, and enjoyable read. I highly recommend picking up a copy and start thinking like Shakespeare.

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