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The Tragedy of Poetry in Education

Years of teaching English and visiting elementary language arts classrooms has left me with a low opinion of most language arts curricula. So often, I am offended on behalf of writers everywhere as I watch the inane way children are asked to interact with poetry and story, too often by teachers who are not themselves writers and whose discomfort with writing and literature is palpable. Billy Collins’s poem Introduction to Poetry perfectly illustrates this challenge, and the last two stanzas sum it up nicely:

But all they want to do

is tie the poem to a chair with rope

and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose

to find out what it really means.

Poet Sara Holbrook recently published an ironic illustration of the situation and excoriated the standardized testing industry in her Huffington Post piece, I Can’t Answer These Texas Standardized Test Questions About My Own Poem. I hope you read it. I particularly love her last line:

“Any test that questions the motivations of the author without asking the author is a big baloney sandwich. Mostly test makers do this to dead people who can’t protest. But I’m not dead.

I protest.”

Sara Holbrook, on behalf of writers and teachers everywhere, thank you for shining a light on this tragic situation.

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