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Should Poetry Be Taught in Schools?

Do you see high school poetry as suffering from an image problem? Imagine watching some kids reciting some lines or stanzas at the Dead Poets Society or some people busily imitating Dickinson at public venues such as parks. Do not also forget the tiring process of trying to learn some of the areas of poetry like the iambic pentameters and the almost meaningless interpretations teachers make out of stanzas while most of their students look on more confused than ever.

The Debate

Many learners, as well as observers, consider poetry an impracticable subject and the attitude of high school poets, who are characteristically antisocial, is not helping the situation. In any educational setting where less emphasis is laid on creativity and more focus is given to expository writing and the study of non-literary texts, teachers in such high schools are sandwiched between what they had to teach and what is meaningful. At this point, they have no choice but to make some sacrifices. Poetry is often the subject removed from the timetable.

Despite the unfair treatment poetry gets in many academic settings, students can learn how to read, write and understand any written work. Poetry can be students’ emotional outlet, and regular practice of classroom loud poetry recitation can create empathy in students, especially when original texts are used, and speaking and listening are highly encouraged. However, students who have issues with essays may resort to poetry because of the non-existence of rules and its similarity with rap. The good thing is that such students may find expression through poetry which could eventually lead them into other kinds of writing.

The Benefits

Poetry can teach them the economy and conciseness of words. An example is Carl Sandburg’s use of six words in poem lines, “The fog comes/on little cat feet.” With this economy of words, he still endowed the work with spirit, pace, and character. Every form of writing, whether dominant or concise, is an integral part of poetry. While poetry may have many benefits in the classroom, it has some shortcomings if used as a tool in the teaching of the rules of grammar. Apart from that, the classroom practice of poems can lose its attractions, meanings, and purpose.

According to Billy Collins, when such is the case, the whole exercise becomes a dead practice that only succeeds in concealing the beauty of the poem under the overemphasized need for interpretation. In one of his works, Introduction to Poetry, he observed that most teachers seem to attempt to tie a poem to a chair and torture it while expecting a confession. Then they beat it with a hose in an attempt to find out its meaning.

The purpose of learning poems is not to find out what it means. Tutors are encouraged to teach students how to demystify poetry instead of teaching them how to create a piece of literature. In the end, poems lose their enchantment, and that is something anyone who loved poetry from childhood would not afford to lose.