The Dying of the Light: How Common Core Damages Poetry Instruction
Published by Pioneer Institute, a new white paper entitled, “The Dying of the Light: How Common Core Damages Poetry Instruction” — which you can read here— begins by asking whether poetry has a future in the face of Common Core:
“The fate of poetry in the school curriculum may seem like an odd subject for a Pioneer Institute report. But these are unusual times. It is not clear that the literary genre called poetry has a future in the face of a reduction in literary study that Common Core’s English language arts standards implicitly mandate— and in the context of Common Core’s drive for workforce development.”
I’ve never read an academic research paper more important to me personally. I’ve never read one so beautifully composed that it moved me to tears.
Please read and share this paper.
Maybe it’s the subject. Maybe it’s the writing. Maybe it’s my recognition that these people are defending what has not been defended, and must be.
The title alludes to the Dylan Thomas poem, which says: “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” The original poem is about the value of life and the importance of fighting for life regardless of the ultimate inevitability of mortality. But here, the words are about the value of poetry and the importance of fighting for it, regardless of the seeming inevitability of poetry’s death because of education deformations posing as education reformations.
Thanks to the three authors: two literature professors and one Teacher of the Year: Anthony Esolen, Jamie Highfill, and Sandra Stotsky!
The paper contains five sections:
In part I, Dr. Anthony Esolen discusses why students should read poetry, the kind of reading that poetry demands from us, and what poetry has to do with the child’s developing imagination.
In part II, Jamie Highfill explains how poetry has traditionally been taught in the public schools.
In part III, Dr. Sandra Stotsky traces what is known from large-scale studies about the poetry curriculum in this country’s public schools.
Part IV discusses how Common Core’s standards seem to be influencing the poetry curriculum in schools.
Part V explores the fate of poetry in the school curriculum as long as Common Core’s standards and tests shape education and teacher training.
Part I, which answers the question of why students need poetry, has five parts:
A. Raising Children to be Free
B. The Free Arts are for All
C. Beauty, the Common Desire of Man
D. An Education in Love
E. The Love that Moves the Sun and the Other Stars
I will post the beginning here and hope you will read and share the whole paper:
“Why should a young person read a poem?
Why should he read those lines from “Ode to Autumn”? We cannot answer that question without asking some more fundamental ones.
What is a child? What is a child for?
He shares life with all the other living creatures upon the earth. He eats and drinks, he moves about, he grows, he may bring others of his kind into the world. All these things he shares in common with cattle, dogs, birds of the air, fish of the sea. Yet we perceive that his life is more than food and drink and raiment. His cup runneth over. What is the life of his life?
It would seem odd, even mad, if someone were to say “I have a new and improved method of raising horses” without having first ascertained what horses are.
It would hardly be sufficient if such a person, or a committee, or a bureaucracy flush with billions of dollars, were to assure us that they could tell the difference between a horse and a camel, that they once rode upon a horse in a parade, that they could spell the word, that they knew how much horse-meat could sell by the pound, and that they had received bids from a glue factory for so much tonnage of equine bones. We would be even more wary, and more ready to call the men from the home for the insane, if they should assure us that their single centrally-directed method must be applied to ponies on the Orkney Islands as well as to wild mustangs in the American plains and draft-horses on the steppes of Mongolia.
Yet what the madmen would do with, or to, that patient dumb animal with the slow sad eyes, the ideologues of education today would do with children all over America.
They would strap them all onto the same treadmill, subjecting their teachers to the same overseers with the same conforming textbooks, computer files, databases, and standardized tests, now and forevermore.
And they would do so without troubling to ask the questions we are asking. What is a child? What is a child for? What is the life of his life? We shall make three interrelated assertions.
The child, as well as the fully realized human person to which his education should aim, is meant to be free; he is meant to behold what is good and beautiful and true; and he is meant to love it because it is so.
None of these assertions is original to us. They are the common wisdom of men and women who have thought and written about education from ancient Greece to the present day. They are to be found, expressed in a variety of ways but true to the central vision nonetheless, in the pagan Plato and the Christian Newman, in the metaphysical Aquinas and the artistic Leonardo, in poets as diverse as the Christian Dante and the skeptic Arnold, and in educational reformers of our own age, such as Maria Montessori, John Senior, and Stratford Caldecott. Let us examine each assertion to see how a poetic education bears upon it…
Read and share the whole paper.
One more thing. A personal memory–
I’m thinking about Colton High School, in Colton, CA, where I taught English.
This was not necessarily a great school at that time. We had more than our fair share of drugs, poverty, gangster wannabees and teen pregnancy. We had the highest teen pregnancy rate in the state of California.
I remember reading poetry out loud there. I remember the poems students wrote, too.
My classes decided to publish a little yearly volume that students dubbed “Poetryoni”. It contained some great poetry and also some trashy poetry; some sonnets, some limericks, some illustrations, some writings that were more graffiti and smoke signals than literature; some cheesy stuff but also some powerful language that hit a true nerve when you read it; it was such lively, original literature spattered on the pages, all written by teenagers. They wrote after and during the time that they had studied classic poetry and had practiced its different forms for themselves in the class.
Poetryoni mattered to me. I know it mattered to many of them.
I wonder if these types of joys can continue in public schools during teaching time, under the brave new Common Core world that pushes for poetry reduction and pushes for so much time on government/corporate tests?