Friday, December 7, 2007

Government-run Schools Dumping Classic Poems in Favor of Lightweight Verse

One of my favorite books to read growing up was the Golden Books Family Treasury of Poetry edited by Louis Untermeyer. I received it as a gift on my 6th birthday from one of my little friends and it still has a special place on my bookshelf decades later. I spent many hours as a child absorbed in the wonderful poems such as Longfellow's "Paul Revere's Ride", Poe's "Annabel Lee", Keats' "La Belle Dame Sans Merci", Thackeray's "Pocahontas", Holmes' "Grandmother's Story of Bunker Hill", Lear's "The Owl and the Pussycat", Nash's "Tale of Custard the Dragon", and so on.

I was therefore very disappointed to read an article from London's Evening Standard newspaper entitled "Schools scrapping classic poetry for 'lightweight' verse." British school inspectors checking poetry teaching in government-run primary schools found that only 8% earned an "outstanding" rating. Most teachers did not know enough about the subject to teach classic poems and instead focused on easier modern verse such as "On the Ning Nang Nong" by Spike Milligan:

On the Ning Nang Nong
Where the Cows go Bong!
and the monkeys all say BOO!
There's a Nong Nang Ning
Where the trees go Ping!
And the tea pots jibber jabber joo.
On the Nong Ning Nang
All the mice go Clang
And you just can't catch 'em when they do!
So it's Ning Nang Nong
Cows go Bong!
Nong Nang Ning
Trees go ping
Nong Ning Nang
The mice go Clang
What a noisy place to belong
is the Ning Nang Ning Nang Nong!!

Not exactly Shakespeare, is it?

While there is a place for modern poets such as Shel Silverstein or Jack Prelutsky in the curriculum, the primary focus should be on classic verse. Not just for cultural literacy purposes, but also because they typically demonstrate a higher-level vocabulary and structure than recent poems. A child simply gets more out of reading something that has not been "dumbed down".

In our homeschool, I'm planning to use the poetics series by Michael Clay Thompson published by Royal Fireworks Press. It looks like a good introduction to studying poetry using classic verse. I think we'll do a poetry unit in the spring with the Music of the Hemispheres book if DD appears to be ready at that point (it's so hard to predict with her).

1 comment:

Sassy Lucy said...

It is a shame that it happens again this is one of the many reasons we homeschool. When the children were younger we learned basic poetry style and all of the family received a book of poetry written by the kids and I for Christmas that year. Those comb bound books are cherished by the family.
As we are in our first year of highschool with our oldest we plan to repeat the poetry unit going more into the mechanics and exploring all of the classical poets...I even pulled out my college textbooks to use.