Soul Food

As many a reader (if there are such things) may know, I am a tutor. I help students in various subjects, but my favorites, by far, are English, literature, history and critical thinking. Tonight I was able to conquer the Odyssey with one student and great poetry with another.

Poetry is a phenomenal tool, I've found. Not only does the memorization of poetry help students in English, it also improves their reading comprehension and test taking ability. It also breeds character and teaches good writing, at least with the type of poetry I make my students read/memorize. On the other hand, bad poetry can do great harm to a student, making him believe that pseudo spiritual, new age nothings are worthwhile thoughts.

I wrote a searing letter to a second grade teacher once for introducing bad poetry to her class. I tutored one of her pupils and was furious when I read the poem she had to analyze. Not only was it utter trash but it also dealt with highly inappropriate and extremely politically correct material. It was basically a poem touting all types of lifestyles as acceptable, making sure the reader knew that no one one was a failure, even the teenage girl who was pregnant. Okay, second graders just learned that Santa doesn't exist. You're going to tell them that getting pregnant out of wedlock is an acceptable behavior? Needless to say, I not only gave the teacher a piece of my mind, I gave the parents some too for allowing the teacher to continually circulate this drivel.

One of my current fifth grade students has a hard time reading aloud. She tends to get ahead of herself in her head and the words don't come out as they're supposed to. I'm making her memorize poetry as a small part of the solution to this problem. The poem she's working on? One of my favorites, and a classic, Emily Dickinson's "If I Could Stop One Heart From Breaking." Now this is literature; short and sweet, but still great poetry:

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

Parents, make your kids memorize good stuff. It stays with them, I assure you.

Posted by Portia at November 8, 2005 09:34 PM | TrackBack