Wednesday, May 26, 2010

the meter and the math

I've written before about how most schooling and educational practices destroy the innate creative impulse in children. I'm not saying that schools are intentionally evil, but, by their insistence on clinging to regimented, cookie-cutter, standardized, photocopied, one-size-fits-the-dumbest methodologies, they do inadvertently sow the seeds for our future mediocrity.

Here's why I hate what schools do to kids.

Yesterday, as we were getting ready to have dinner (have I mentioned that my family has dinner together every day? Sometimes, when I'm out and about, maybe at seven in the evening, I'll see some kids walking on the street and I can't help but wonder if those kids had dinner at home, or, as I suspected, if they were just expected to fend for themselves)... Okay, so we were about to have dinner, and my daughter asked me if I knew of any good poems that were about 20 lines in length, for a project she had to do for school.

I will admit that I'm not too good with poetry, and what I do know of it makes me a bit of a snob. Usually, when kids ask me to critique a poem they've written or something like that, I lamely make the excuse that I don't know anything about poetry and I'm a snob about it anyway.

But, to be perfectly honest, I do know a little bit.

So I told my daughter it was a no-brainer for me. I told her to go on the internet and look up Wallace Stevens' The Emperor of Ice Cream. I think it is one of the greatest pieces of poetry ever written in American English (and yes, for poetry, I would make distinctions for dialect). It is not only perfect in its meter, imagery, and structure, I explained, but the poem contains everything you could ever care about: sex, food, beauty, desire, self-denial, loneliness, and death.

So my daughter went off to look up the poem.

She came back a few minutes later, and my wife asked her if she liked the poem.

My daughter said, yes, she liked it, but she couldn't use it because it only has 16 lines and the teacher told the class their poems had to have a minimum of twenty.

I guess I must have missed that lesson in poetry class when I went to school:

Poem > 20.

So I said to my girl, "Oh. I guess it's a math class project, rather than an English one."

Which wasn't what I really wanted to say, but my daughter gets scared when I cuss in anger, so I bit my tongue.

I am a teacher, and I hate what schools can do to kids.