There is a lot of debate at the moment about the learning of poetry in schools and whether it is necessary - indeed whether it is a good thing or a bad thing. I am horrified by this - both as an 'ordinary' person and as an ex-teacher. I question what is wrong with learning some (and I emphasise the 'some') stuff off by heart.
Let's take it one step at a time and begin with children in their early learning years. Nursery rhymes are so very important for so many reasons. Firstly they are part of our heritage and most have their roots in historical facts. Secondly they are fun to learn and the more fun that can be inserted into early learning the better. Thirdly - they rhyme on the whole, and this rhyme is such a great help in the early stages of reading, when children learn that words such as
wall and fall, men and again, bell and well, out and Stout (I will leave you to work out which Nursery rhymes they come from) have a rhyming pattern and often a pattern of letters to match.
But the real debate has apparently centred on whether or not pupils should be allowed to take poetry books into examinations or whether they should have learned the poems they have studied 'off by heart'.
It may well be asking too much for pupils (often with an enormous work load as it gets to the exams) to learn every poem they have studied off by heart. But really, is any question going to ask them to write out the whole poem? I doubt it. What the questioner is likely to want is an essay/answer which shows that the pupils has studied the poem, enjoyed the poem, knows it well enough to be able to quote snippets, and loves the subject he or she is studying at an advanced level. (how important a good teacher is in this!) This doesn't just apply to English and Poetry - it applies to all the arts. A good example would be for instance in music a study of Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas should at least mean that the student should be able to quote the ground bass from Dido's Lament - ten notes - is that too much to ask? Those ten notes are really the key to the whole Aria and the same applies to Poetry.
Finally, we all remember poetry we learned at school don't we? 'Old Meg she was a gypsy and lived upon the moors' (remember learning that?) 'I wandered lonely as a cloud' - what about that? A friend helps out at an Alzheimer's society meeting each week and talks to the gathering about things to jog their memories. A couple of weeks ago she read them the first verse of Wordworth's 'Daffodils' and after a couple of readings many of the folk gathered there could remember bits of it from their own childhoods and could still recall enough to join in. If that doesn't prove that learning of poetry is worth doing then I don't know what does.
Have you an opinion?