Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Your opinion needed!

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?

19 comments:

donna baker said...

I thought the education system was only broken in the US. They have done away here with cursive writing and kids now can't read it. Now poetry? What's next?

Heather said...

I see nothing wrong with learning things by heart. I learned times tables and poetry this way at school and I believe there is talk of bringing this back, for the tables anyway.
Poetry encourages good use of language which in turn might encourage clearer speech. Quite often when answering the telephone I am not sure if the person on the other end is speaking English!

jinxxxygirl said...

i think as time goes on we expect less instead of more from our students.. How did that happen? Don't we want our children to be challenged and strive for more...

Anyway i have to agree with you. You spoke very eloquently about it. Yes , poetry belongs in school and no they should not be allowed to take the book in with them...sheesh...

You know Donna i heard that too..that many children do not have to learn cursive writing any more.. unbelievable... Hugs! deb

Frances said...

This is an interesting question. I was born in 1945 and started first grade just before I had my sixth birthday. I was taught to cursive "script" writing in the second grade. The arts played little role in my schooling all the way through high school graduation, although my parents did encourage my being an early reader and gave me an appreciation of some poetry and music. My Dad encouraged my drawing and painting interests.

This was in contrast to what my Mother told me about her own school days. All this seemed strange then and seems strange now. I do remember having to memorize bits during my four years of Latin classes. Some of that was poetry!

All very interesting.

MorningAJ said...

Don't get me started on this one! There is absolutely nothing wrong with learning a few things by heart. I know our O level paper gave us the whole of Keats's Ode to Autumn, so we didn't need to know it by heart. However, I can still remember huge chunks of it because I had an excellent teacher. "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness....." etc.

From my junior school days I learned at least bits of poems. (Oh young Lochinvar is come out the West..... The Highwayman..... lots of extracts of Winnie the Pooh {even in Latin!}..... etc. etc.)

It all still brings me a lot of joy. If kids aren't expected to learn poetry any more they will miss out on so much.

Joanne Noragon said...

When I consider how my light is spent, 'ere half my days in this dark world and wide...

Most every time I think through a poem I find another gem to consider. Beats playing Bedazzled on a phone.

Rachel said...

The pain of Matthew Arnold's Sohrab and Rustum has never left me. Poetry is a private world, and school helped me to discover it. Hopefully it will still be there in GCSE English Lit for a long time to come. It is still there at the moment, I checked it only the other day.

angryparsnip said...

Oh My Goodness... don't get me started. The American school system is so broken, so PC, so teach to the test that our children are learning nothing.
Something you need to learn by heart
Your math tables, spelling with no computers or phones.
Once you learn the words you need to learn and feel the words become sentences.
In America we are graduating students who can't add, write, spell even basic reading or even speaking any English because
we are all so political correct.
It is awful.


cheers, parsnip


Tom Stephenson said...

I remember a copy of 'Lady Chatterly's Lover' being passed around when it was banned in the 60's.

Other than that, without an inspirational teacher, then no poetry is greatly admired, especially in a school as bad as mine.

Frugal in Derbyshire said...

Oh yes! Children love to learn poems/ nursery rhymes by heart when young. This can continue throughout childhood and beyond with encouragement . This should also come from parents and families though and not just school. Like Rachel I studied Matthew Arnold at GCE and probably would never have considered him otherwise. "The grating roar of pebbles" - Dover Beach - impressed me greatly as a descriptive line.And let us not forget the "piggly plays truant" of our youth Weave!
Gill

sonia said...

This is such a shame. It seems the Arts are always the first to go. We read The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock as freshman in high school as well as The Odyssey. It seems that now literature is taught as a vehicle for morality and diversity. I agree that of course there is such a place for tales that teach a lesson but there is something to be said for the high arts and the humanities. To Kill a Mockingbird's merits don't discount Chaucer's. As a teacher of 3 to 5 year olds I witness how they delight in rhyming poetry every day, from Dr. Seuss to other lesser known works. As for cursive, we're lucky enough to have our child at a school where that is still taught. Apparently, the brain thinks in a more complex way when it's writing cursive over print. Pretty soon people won't be writing at all, just texting!

the veg artist said...

I could read before I went to school - aged 4, and I can't imagine going through life not being able to write properly or not knowing my times tables.
At my grammar school we had a wonderful teacher who would read poetry or plays to us with appropriate classical music playing in the background. Those lessons were quite spellbinding, and really fostered a love of language.

Cro Magnon said...

Children are too busy learning about sex to learn poetry. They don't even have time to learn joined-up handwriting, or even how to hold a knife and fork properly. What a sad state of affairs.

Mac n' Janet said...

Memorization is an important skill, of course they should still be memorizing poems and other stuff. I still know the preamble to the American Constitution, the Gettysburg Address and numerous poems. I hope to keep them a life time.

Elizabeth said...

Well, of course I love poetry!
I taught it for years - writing sonnets and all - which many students actually enjoyed - fitting all the bits together and a rhyme scheme etc.
Also poetry works better than novels in a classroom setting - we can all study the text together - also the interplay of words are mostly more concentrated.

"I met a traveller from an antique land...."
Oh, I remember lots of it - and am enriched by it.
I really avoid the endless discussions of current educational practice in the UK and USA...

od course in many parts of the world sans computers and lots of text books much is learned by heart.
Cheers!
ps we are expecting 3 inches of snow tomorrow!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks. Seems we largely all agree on the basics.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Can you guess how I feel??
xo

Jay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jay said...

No, pupils should not be writing out the whole poem. The whole point is that they should have learned, understood, and be able to quote from the work. I learned several John Betjeman poems at school and I still remember large parts of them and I have a fondness for them. I suppose I was lucky that he was the Poet Laureate at the time.

I tend to think education has lost its way a bit. We should be teaching life skills and not just facts & figures to pass exams and tick boxes. Learning to use memory is a life skill that we all need.