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Teaching Poetry: an Opinion Piece on the Power of Creativity and the Faults of Poetry Education

By: Felix Howton

Many have endured lackluster experiences with learning poetry in school. I still vividly remember the first time a teacher took up the challenge of teaching my third-grade class to write poetry. The teacher emphasized styles of poetry heavily reliant on a structure; this inevitably resulted in a class of frustrated elementary schoolers who found the emphasis on rules so agitating and rigid that they failed to glean any real, creative enjoyment from the assignment. This is but one example (and a common one) of a negative experience in poetry. Yet, stories like this comprise a general trend in language arts education. Poetry has taken a back seat in English classrooms, with most students reading a poem in their English class only once a year, if that. Even when teachers do expose or introduce students to poetry, their methods often fall into the same monotonous cycle, testing for that highly-regarded “right” answer that has come to pervade contemporary education. The problem with this variety of teaching is that poetry does not have one right answer and can mean different things to the different people who approach its pages and phrases as readers. Poetry is a form of free expression: it is essential that we emphasize its creative aspects accordingly, lest we continue rearing generations of scholars who remember poetry only as constrictive, stifling, or pointless.

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