The Common Core Standards have many admirable features. I always like to look at the verbs, and I find a lot that refer to thinking. In mathematics students are asked to construct viable arguments, critique the reasoning of others, communicate precisely, make sense of problems and persevere in solving them and apply the mathematics they know to solve problems. All good. In Language Arts they will be asked to describe relationships, determine meanings, compare and contrast, cite evidence, analyze and evaluate. That’s great too.
But something is potentially lacking in the Language Arts curriculum. In Reading, students are expected to experience a variety of genres, including poetry. But in Writing the focus is firmly on writing arguments, informational and explanatory texts, and the construction of narratives. There is no mention of poetry in writing other than as a side bar that explains that the inclusion of poetry writing is entirely at the teacher’s discretion.
I understand the importance of making our students “college and career ready”, but I also believe our society is enriched and deepened by its commitment to the arts and to the aesthetic elements of our culture. Poetry ought not to be an optional extra. From the ancient Greek poets to the beat poets, concrete poets, poets of the absurdist movement and voices of our present generation, poetry has been a reflection of the heart of humanity.
Poetry is a particularly important medium for children because its freedom and essentially inventive nature allows children to play with their language as they learn to master it and bend it to their uses. By writing poetry children learn to appreciate the music of language, the rhythms of words, the power of the pause, the brilliance of individual words and the unexpected power of particular word combinations. To deny our children the opportunity to write poetry is to deny them a vital path of effective language learning and an insight into one of the most important paths in our literate culture.
As assessments inevitably follow standards, school districts will keep their focus firmly on ensuring that students are becoming proficient in the things that will be measured. I profoundly hope that leaving poetry to the discretion of the teacher does not push to the margins.