Macbeth survives parents' challenge

Parents follow procedure to challenge the contents of the class

DALLAS -- The Dallas Schools' Curriculum Review Committee voted unanimously last week to recommend to the school board that the it uphold Janet Lebold's teaching of "Macbeth" at LaCreole Middle School.

Jeanne and Benson Burbank had challenged the presentation of the Shakespeare tragedy in their son's sixth grade English class.

Lebold has been teaching about Macbeth for seven years, alternating it with "Romeo and Juliet." As part of her curriculum, the sixth graders present a full production of an abridged version of one of the plays.

The Burbanks, whose older daughter also was taught by Lebold, objected to swearing, drug use, witchcraft and other "adult" themes presented in Macbeth.

Jeanne Burbank said that several weeks ago her son came home excited that he was going to be participating in a play, and that in it he would be allowed to swear.

Burbank said this is in direct contradiction to the values she is attempting to instill in her children. She contacted Lebold to discuss her concerns.

Later, they met and Lebold explained that she had been teaching the play for several years and had received only positive feedback.

Burbank said the school provided her with a tape of a previous class' production of Macbeth, so that she could get a better idea of what her son would be doing. However, instead of allaying her concerns, the video only increased her resolve to prevent her son's involvement in the play.

She said the tape brought to light a number of other things that concerned her, including the beheading of Macbeth at the end of the play (it takes place off stage, though the severed "head" is shown) and Lady Macbeth's drug use.

"I was disturbed as I watched these 10- and 11-year-olds acting out these things in Macbeth," Burbank said.

When she contacted Lebold again she was told that there are other options for her son. He could be removed from the class during the run of the show, or he could work backstage. Or he could remain in the class but not participate.

Burbank talked to a school counselor and other school officials and discovered that she could challenge the curriculum, so she did.

"Macbeth is just not family entertainment," Burbank said, concluding her presentation to the Curriculum Review Committee at Friday's hearing.

Lebold then spoke and she became tearful up as she defended the play. "I ask the committee to consider the positive impact these productions have had on the community and its students," she said.

Lebold said she understands that some parents might not want their children to see the play. Parental control should be respected, she said, adding that she is willing to hand out participation permission slips in the future.

"It just hadn't occurred to me. It had never been an issue before."

Nine people gave verbal testimony and submitted letters in favor of keeping Macbeth in the curriculum. Three others didn't speak but also submitted letters. The support came from current and former students, their parents, and other community members.

One letter was submitted by the Director of Instructional Services at the Oregon Shakespearean Festival.

Most people at the hearing agreed that the adult themes and language were appropriate within the literary and historical context of the play, and that Shakespeare's moral messages about the dark consequences of vile acts, even those carried out by good men, can teach children about life and morality.

The Burbank's son is currently doing independent study in the library during the class.


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