Will-power! Rafe Esquith and the Hobart Shakespeareans at TED2012

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Photos: James Duncan Davidson

Rafe Esquith has spent 30 years teaching public school at Hobart School. It’s a difficult school, he says. The children do not speak English as a first language, and many come from poverty. Less than 40% finish high school.

But in one room, the story is different. The Hobart Shakespeareans graduate at much higher numbers, and go on to college. How does Esquith do it? He doesn’t worry about preparing children for a standardized test. “Through a rigorous curriculum, but also an immersion into the arts, these children internalize a set of values that they will use forever…. A classroom shouldn’t be about a teacher talking, it should be about students doing.”

In that room, “They don’t play virtual baseball, they play baseball. They don’t play Guitar Hero and Rock Band. They play the guitar and they are a rock band. They don’t take a test on Hamlet, they act it.”

And they do. A scene between Hamlet and Ophelia transitions into a song and back into Hamlet. And then into a lecture on Shakespeare. It’s an extraordinary experience, seeing spectacular talent in these young kids.