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    Wednesday, October 04, 2006

    The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within

    From David Orr's review in the Times:

    The difficulty of teaching poetry to a lay audience can be summarized by a single, diabolical name: Robin Williams. Williams, as you may recall, played the free-thinking English teacher John Keating in the 1989 movie “Dead Poets Society,” a film that established once and for all the connection between learning about poems and killing yourself while wearing a silly hat. In the movie’s first depiction of poetical pedagogy, Williams as Keating instructs his students to open their textbook — a dry, dully diagrammatic primer by “Dr. J. Evans-Pritchard” — and then, with the insouciant panache of Lord Byron (or possibly Patch Adams) tells them to rip out the introduction! Yes! Riiiip! “Armies of academics going forward, measuring poetry,” cries the righteous Keating, “No, we will not have that here!” Instead, the class is told to embrace a philosophy of carpe diem, and sic transit J. Evans-Pritchard. Significantly, however, while Keating subsequently teaches his students how to stand on their desks, how to kick a soccer ball with gusto and how to free-associate lamely about Walt Whitman, he’s never shown actually teaching them anything about the basics of form — basics they’d need in order to appreciate half the writers he’s recommending.

    That and the fact that 95% of people went through a phase where they "wrote poetry" (this includes songs and raps), so everyone thinks poetry is just a glorified journal with extra cliches and loads of stilted metaphors.

    Anyway, I just gave my students an assignment which required them to select and view a film on education. And, frankly, I ended up feeling strange about it because many of them were about the Inspiring Teacher, a category I am far, far from inhabiting. I'm not going to ask my students to rip out pages from their books; I'd be happy if they just fucking read them. I'd imagine coming into my class after watching an Inspiring Teacher for two hours was a real letdown. Sorry students.

    5 Comments:

    Anonymous amy said...

    "John Keating" is just too close to "John Keats", poet who died young. Hmmm. I know it's obvious, but I can't get over the stupidity.

    As for your students, I found myself annoyed by complaints of "this is boring" once too many times recently (in an expository writing class), and finally just lit into them with what can only be explained as a pent-up and prolonged speech my brain must have been writing for the last three years. The overarching theme was "This is college, and I'm not here to entertain you." I went on to say, yeah, it's great if you're entertained along the way, but for three hours each week, it is my duty to find a way to get you to develop some critical thinking skills and learn how to articulate certain ideas and opinions into stylized writing. Language, even when the chips are down and at their wit's end, it's all we gots.

    10:19 PM  
    Blogger CrackerLilo said...

    This is making me giggle. It's probably a good thing for those teachers that I hated those movies. Seriously, even as a teen, I wondered when Keating taught any poetry.

    11:28 PM  
    Blogger CrackerLilo said...

    Um...I meant "my teachers," not "those teachers".

    *facepalm*

    11:28 PM  
    Anonymous Luke said...

    Ah dangit, I think my comment got lost again! I think i tripped up on the word verification. but if i can recall:

    Dangerous Minds? As many issues as that had, I hope it was at least that and not...uh, The Substitute where the Black school principal turned out to be a drug dealer. Seems like an interesting assignment tho because "education" can mean so many different things.

    And the smart money says you're a damn good teacher.

    2:42 PM  
    Blogger EL said...

    Amy, I have given a variation on that speech myself. And, when I'm not giving it, it's just about oozing out of my pores.

    crackerlilo, you smarty. I always fell for the Inspirational Teacher hook, line, and sinker until I was in college.

    Luke, I have never heard of that substitute, but it floors me. Thanks for the vote of confidence.

    11:53 AM  

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