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.