Monday, June 18, 2012

The Pedagogy of Poetry, A Modest Proposal

We should no longer teach teenagers poetry.
1.  Most of them will never have appreciation for its finer points anyway.

2.  Education and educational spending are often currently justified based on the number of students that get into colleges and/or the types of jobs students can get and the amount of money they will make after their education (just one example).  The current buzz-phrase of the past few years has been "college and career readiness" for every student.

Poetry does not help this cause at all.  In fact, it takes away valuable time that students might spend learning to consider experimental design, to create marketing campaigns, or to weld.  These efforts are much more worthwhile to our society than the ability to lose of oneself in a book, or even in a couplet. Or, even worse, to find oneself reflected in a poem, to be inspired by the subtle, beautiful gulf between what one finds in a poem and one's own thoughts and experiences to waste even further time writing more useless poetry.

Instead, students should be productive citizens. Students must be ready to enter the economy, of which poetry is an increasingly small part.

3.  More importantly, poetry is dangerous and subversive.  Poetry allows these teen minds, unfettered by adult responsibilities, to roam free within only the boundaries of language, which really is only limited by any ostensible boundaries of human imagination.  And imagination, oh, that, my friends, is a dangerous thing.  Imagination subverts reality.  It creates new worlds.  It has nothing to do with completing assignments.  It rejects grades and all sorts of measurements.  Poetry, with its reliance on slippery metaphors and lack of empirical evidence or even, really, causal relationships, well, it allows students to simultaneously complete the assignment but subvert not only the assignment, but the idea of all assignments. To subvert the teacher. This will undo school as we know it! Why, a poem can meet the highest standards of any rubric while destroying the system that trained the teacher who developed the rubric.

As educational professionals, we cannot allow this to happen.  How can we put such a powerful weapon in the hands of those so young, so easily swayed by the wrong influences? The idea is irresponsible.

However, traditionalists in the canon will persist.  So.  If poetry must be taught, let us teach just the elements, divorced from any real meaning.  Study rhyme with nonsense words.  Metaphors should be familiar.  Images can be learned by rote.  Tropes and conceits:  write poems upholding the glory of the school mascot.  Themes:  Stick to circular reasoning and self-evidential statements.  Symbolism?  Universals, for sure.  None of this creation of private symbols-- that's where the subversiveness starts.  Once a student has the power to make a tree or a stone or a grain of sand stand in the place of anything in human experience, well, there's no telling what their writing actually means.

And irony must be slashed from the curriculum at once.  If young people get control over it, there will be no way to assess their work.  Who will be to say whether they are kidding or not?  If poor grammar, violence, accusations or inappropriate language can be written in the name of an ironic effect, students are liable to begin taking risks they have never taken before, to be brave, bold and brash, to machete their way into new territories of idea and image... even to create the most sickening slander of the very teacher who must read the writing.  Worse, awash in irony, metaphor, and the concept of a speaker separate from the poet, a teacher will be truly bewildered, and, really, powerless to do much about it without stifling the young artist, which any good teacher would never, never do purposefully. 

In fact, the good teacher must cheer the young poet forward, set her ego aside and take it all like an idiomatic man.  The teacher has been the character foil to thousands, and thousands more to come.  It's part of the martyrdom of the job, perhaps.  Part of why English teachers burn out and resort to grammar worksheets.

And so, in the interest of creating a humane environment for teachers and janitors and cafeteria workers (who, unfortunately, also bear the brunt of teen irony and recklessness), poetry must be stopped.

What can one person do for the movement?  Rein in your irony.  Eliminate all but the most banal metaphors.  Purchase corporate-created curriculum geared toward standardized assessment.  Nothing is too much to protect the mental health and economic futures of our children.  (Oh, and ourselves, of course.)

1 comment:

I appreciate your response: