Poetry should not be taught in schools (Junior)

Poetry is an art form which uses the beauty and rhythm of language to produce emotions in a reader. It is a creative piece of writing that often has meanings and messages that appear hidden. Poetry is an ancient art form and dates back to the first human civilization in Sumer more than four thousand years ago. However, just because poetry is an ancient art form does that mean it should always be taught in schools?

Schools follow a curriculum, a set of courses that schools offer to their pupils; this is usually set by the state. This curriculum is made up of the courses that are judged to be essential to a child’s education. In England at the moment poetry is part of the national curriculum; but here as elsewhere there has been discussion about whether it should continue amid arguments about how well it is taught [1].

Title 
Poetry is too difficult for school students
Point 

There are people who dedicate their lives to studying poetry and still have trouble understanding its meaning. If these people constantly debate the nature of poetry how can school children be expected to properly understand it? It is difficult to teach because poetry can have multiple meanings; “[U]ntil education theory asks itself what poetry itself is, and therefore what the teacher is trying to get across, poems will continue largely to figure as teaching aids, exercises and – for teenagers – increasingly tedious, somewhat arbitrary puzzles" [2] and therefore poetry will remain of little worth in the classroom.

The greatest poets write about adult experiences, e.g, love, work, history, politics, solitude etc. As a result great poetry requires an adult mind to grasp its full meaning and teaching it in schools means that students develop a disliking for poetry before they are even fully capable of appreciating it.

Counterpoint 

While great poetry may deal with adult experiences there is poetry that targets a younger audience and methods available to teach this type of poetry. Children’s poetry, for instance, is not complex or dark in subject matter and uses very regular rhythm and rhyme schemes, which young students will enjoy. If age-appropriate poetry is taught in schools then it gives young people the chance to develop an appreciation for poetry and its various techniques. This means that in later years young people will have the skills necessary to properly understand great poetry. 

Title 
Students need to study the basics of language not a complex form such as poetry
Point 

According to a report published in 2011 [3] a great number of pupils in England are struggling after starting secondary school and 3 out of 10 pupils are not making enough progress in English. If pupils are not making the required progress in basic English then it is difficult to understand the motivation behind teaching complex poetry. If a student is unable to do basic multiplication it makes no sense to ask them to do complicated mathematic equations. The same is true in English: pupils who struggle with things like grammar and vocabulary should not be expected to tackle complicated poetic structures.

Counterpoint 

Poetry should not be seen as something that one studies after learning English but should, instead, be seen as a way to help students grasp the English language. Many aspects of English are improved through the study of poetry.  Learning poetry involves repetitive reading and an exploration of vowels and syllables. Students also explore a variety of sentence structures and are given the opportunity to explore the creativity and flexibility available in language. Furthermore, by reading poetry students can improve their reading ability and public speaking skills. 

Title 
Rappers; modern day poets
Point 

Many people believe that rap is a form of modern day poetry and as such it should be taught in schools [4]. Sir Andrew Motion, Professor of Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London, said that: “Poetry is a house of many mansions. It does pupils a disservice only to tell them things they already know. Rap has its own challenges and opportunities – but so do many other kinds of poetry, many of which are neglected in schools." [5] However, many rappers use lyrics that are homophobic, violent, sexist, and promote violence and crime. To teach rap in schools is to give a voice to these values and expose children to views that education must not support. [6]

Counterpoint 

Musicians have, for some time, been awarded poet status. Early in his career Bob Dylan was described as being “as good as Keats [an early 19th Century British poet]." [7]  Musicians must be allowed the chance to develop their poetic style and be recognized for their lyrical writing skills.

Rap gives the listener an insight into the plight of the artist. It shows the harsh conditions in which people live and gives a voice to those that we otherwise might not hear. William Blake’s famous poem ‘London’ is often described a social protest, a voice of discontent with the conditions of life in 1790’s London. Rap does the same thing; social protest, put to music, and designed to describe the racial and economic inequalities that exist within society. Rap, even with its sometimes offensive lyrics reflects the society the artist sees and it should be accepted as it is.

We must not judge the poetry on the basis of the poet’s life Dylan Thomas, Wales’ national poet, was an adulterer and an alcoholic. However, this does not make his poetry any less worthy.

Title 
Poetry is cross-curricular
Point 

Poetry has benefits beyond the English curriculum by teaching about other subjects. In History for example war poetry offers the modern reader the chance to understand the horrors of war. Poet Wilfred Owen suffered from shellshock as a result of fighting in the First World War. In his poem ‘Mental Cases’ he describes his time and experiences at Craiglockhart psychiatric hospital in Scotland where he and Siegfried Sassoon (another World War 1 poet) were treated: “[W]ho are these? Why sit they here in twilight? Wherefore rock they, purgatorial shadows[9]” While we might never be able to properly understand the terrifying experiences that people go through during war we must read their poetry helps bring us closer to how they related to and coped with the experience in a way that simply learning the history does not.

Counterpoint 

History books can tell us more about the horrors of the First World War than any poetry can. War poetry is based on the opinions of one person’s experiences whereas a history book can give an account of all the events and horrors that occurred. Because history books have been written after the war they can gather accounts from many different people and can tell the full story of the war. Shellshock in the First World War helped make many mad; Sassoon himself was nicknamed “Mad Jack” for near suicidal exploits. [10] War poetry may thus be an unreliable source, and it is only one among many that should teach history.

Title 
Poetry allows people to express and understand themselves
Point 

Education should not just be about learning basic skills but should, instead, be about exploring what it means to be human. Poetry teaches pupils to think deeply about themselves and others and encourages them to explore the ways in which their ideas can be expressed. Ideas help to change, and improve, the world we live in. Encouraging students to express themselves and their ideas is important because the heart of democracy involves the ability to express ideas. If individuals cannot express themselves they do not have a voice.

Therefore, by teaching poetry we allow pupils the opportunity to express their own ideas on a huge variety of subjects. Many poets, such as William Wordsworth, have written poetry about nature in order to “see into the life of things." [11] Giving children the tools to express ideas about the world in a variety of ways is crucial to the development of both the individual and society as a whole.

Counterpoint 

Poetry is hardly the only way to teach people how to express themselves; if we are interested in self-expression for democratic purposes then children should be taught politics. If they are to express their ideas about nature then other art forms are just as important. Unfortunately poetry as a form of self-expression can only be crippled as a result of students’ lack of knowledge of the basics of language. The priority of government should be to achieve a basic level of literacy for all students; only then can the luxury of teaching art be introduced. There is no use in children being able to effortlessly quote Shakespeare if they have no idea how to spell his name. 

Title 
Education is about teaching culture, the arts, and creativity
Point 

We want cultured people to graduate from schools. It would be terrible if high school graduates had no understanding of the arts and had no desire to explore cultural places like museums and art galleries. The arts inspire learning and encourage human curiosity; removing this cultural aspect from schools means that we produce people without the creativity necessary for society to grow. At present the only cultural GCSE subject that is compulsory is English Literature; as such, it is important to include as much culture in it as possible i.e. novels and poetry. 

Counterpoint 

We must be realistic in education; we need to prepare our students for the difficulties of the real world. It is those subjects that are vocational in nature and/ or life skills, home language (not literature), mathematics, science, modern languages, business studies and law that must take priority in schools. We must equip and train the new generation to successfully gain employment. Therefore, artistic subjects like poetry do not take priority. 

Title 
As an artistic form of a core subject poetry offers a creative method of teaching English
Point 

Pupils in schools must learn English and poetry offers a creative outlet for a subject that would otherwise be repetitive and boring. Poetry also introduces the reader to new concepts which hold the learner’s interest and improve vocabulary and spelling.

Poetry offers a fun method of teaching subjects that can otherwise be exhaustive and repetitive. For example, Shirley Hughes’ poems for young readers such as ‘Best Friends’ introduce young readers to the vowel sounds of English and Zoe’s Earrings by Kit Wright teaches pre-GCSE students about accents. [8]

Counterpoint 

Learning the basics of literature and language is not designed to be fun or enjoyable, it is an essential requirement. It is important that students can get to grips with the basics of their home language. A standard ‘look, cover, write, check’ method is an effective way to learn spelling and vocabulary as it requires the learner to write the words themselves. Simply reading them is not enough, especially not in the context of a poem which can be complex and difficult for a pupil whose priority is to learn writing and reading. It is much more effective to develop the pupils reading skills through standard literature where the structure is easier to follow. 

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