Thursday, August 22, 2013


Yesterday I fell into a conversation with a local Mom. Her son is in the same grade as mine (high school junior). She's also Russian. When we compared our (generation's) upbringing, we both recalled having reading poems and even memorizing them. This was just a small point to the larger point -- to wit, what seems to us to be a low threshold in education. Take reading: she says her son's school doesn't seem to encourage reading outside of in-class reading. Uh huh. I replied that, fortunately, my son's school recommends books for outside-school reading, e.g. during the summer (I told her that her son might as well read HIROSHIMA, since that was one of two (only two?) recommended summer reading for my son's class).

But what I also said is that with the start of the junior year, my son has homework from his parents to write a paragraph a day on any topic to bolster his writing skills. (When we bought school supplies last weekend, we also bought a notebook for this homework-from-parents.) And I also said that while we always encouraged (okay, pushed!) my son to read, we also encouraged him to write mini-reports on what's being read. Because just because a person reads a book doesn't mean s/he understands or engages with it and the mini-reports -- e.g., a paragraph per chapter -- forces the child to consider the topic more so that it's not in one ear and out the other (or is that in one eye and out the other?).

I could go on. But what is tragic about this is how many families allow their children's education to be someone else's purview (like a school mired in budget cutbacks). It seems to me to be a vicious circle: the school ends up dumbing down its curriculum because of what the students can handle ... and the students aren't given enough resources (and parental attention) to step up on their education. Hence, one result can be what Professor Leny says about college students in one, very telling post (that's actually about white privilege but this is the paragraph lingering with me):

I am thinking of assigning your novel as a text but am afraid they can't handle 400 pages. This semester they are reading two short memoirs and a book of short essays and not all of them bought the books. They take notes in class during lecture and discussion and take just enough information to use in their papers. I could go on and on about how I have dumbed down my syllabus since the start of my teaching fifteen years ago but that would bore you to tears. And you probably already know the story.

I could go on, but as this is a poetics blog let me go back to poetry. Yes, poetry has a small audience -- always has and possibly always will. That doesn't bother me. What bothers me is how a significant cause to that smallness is not the quality or nature of what poets are writing -- it's the quality or nature of intellectual development being instilled in our children, or not being instilled thereof.

How to become proactive thinkers instead of passive receptors for others' agendas, how to think for themselves -- if we can instill that in children, a lot of things fall into place. Instead, I know many schools now have school administrations and teachers (no doubt in an attempt to be pragmatic with what's facing them) bifurcating education into college-prep and non-college prep. This totally ignores how students in both groups are living together in the same country whose leaders are elected by its citizens regardless of their school degrees. Dumb people, people, elect dumb -- or worse, per the headlines, corrupt -- leaders. There should be a way to educate children without relating it to whether they're going to continue their academic education beyond high school.

But I've lost track of my point, of course. As the above excerpt from Leny's post shows, even those who are going to college aren't receiving enough educational guidance.

So, WAKE UP, PEOPLE. And may I say, on a personal note and as I continue to leap around topics, I am sick of your tendencies to avoid responsibility whenever I read the day's headlines and consistently see how idiotic our "leaders" are behaving. Ignorance, indeed, is a way to avoid responsibility. And we put those dumb ass leaders in those positions of power specifically because we, too, are dumb ass. Do our retirement prospects a favor and educate the younger generation, please, to be waaaaay smarter than us.

What a delight it would be if (most) voters could handle "400 pages." Let's start with 40 pages, okay. But 4 pages is not sufficient, nor should it be acceptable.

Bottom line: Some people are into books; some are not. Either can be fine. But let's talk about the child's capability (vs. the child's personal interests). To wit: if your child graduates from high school let alone college without the ability to process a 400-page book, you can say this about the education the child got: it was not enough.