Thursday, August 23, 2012

William Blake Enters the Fourth Grade

Oh, hark!  I hear the conversation leading up to the inclusion of William Blake in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Appendix of recommended literature for fourth grade.

Here’s a poem about a park.  Fourth graders like to play in the park.

Not in my neighborhood, they mostly play video games.

But it would be better if they played in the park, so let’s go with it.

Who’s the author?

William Blake.  I’ve heard of him.

THE William Blake of the 18th century?  The nutter who espoused free love and eschewed the church?  That William Blake?

Yes, that’s the best part.  He's out of copyright. 

Didn’t he have hallucinations about talking to angels in trees and God sticking his head in his bedroom window?

Look! He made a bunch of pictures to go with his poems.  A model for students illustrating their own poems.

Luckily most of his artwork will be blocked by elementary school search engines.

We don’t have to look at his artwork, we can just talk about it.  And look here, 12,462 PhDs have written their theses on him.  This guy is a great topic for online research assignments.

Most of those papers were written about whether or not opium influenced his writing and artwork.

A cross-curricular connection for science class! 

He thought marriage was institutionalized prostitution.

That works right into our social studies unit on slavery.  Do you see any math connections here?  We might have a home run.

Look, I just don’t think this guy is very good.  Most of his rhymes are too predictable and these couplets don't work at all:

The skylark and thrush,
The birds of the bush,


Till the little ones, weary,
No more can be merry:

He’s quirky, I’ll grant you that.

He was insane.

Since 1820 every educated person has had to study Blake. 

Not in fourth grade alongside Ramona and The Hardy Boys.  Even his contemporaries thought he was a mediocre poet and a headcase.

That was before he was dead, what did they know?  Stop trying to buck the system.  How else will we prepare them for seventh grade where he appears again rhyming “eye” with “symmetry?” 

Can’t we find a poem more relevant to kids’ lives rather than this thing written through the eyes of two bitter geezers leering at kids in a park discussing their youth-time?

He was a free thinker, he didn’t bow to the wishes of others.

Are you saying we should include him just because he is like the honey badger?  What about poetic form?  About relevancy of content?  About his themes?

The man was English, he is old, and he is out of copyright.  What more do you want?

A picture  of a fourth grader, included here for reference purposes. 
Below, a copy of Blake'spoem, included anywhere in the elementary curriculum for purposes I cannot discern.
Blake, William. “The Echoing Green.”
The sun does arise,
And make happy the skies;
The merry bells ring
To welcome the Spring;
The skylark and thrush,
The birds of the bush,
Sing louder around
To the bells’ cheerful sound;
While our sports shall be seen
On the echoing green.
Old John, with white hair,
Does laugh away care,
Sitting under the oak,
Among the old folk.
They laugh at our play,
And soon they all say,
‘Such, such were the joys
When we all—girls and boys—
In our youth-time were seen
On the echoing green.’
Till the little ones, weary,
No more can be merry:
The sun does descend,
And our sports have an end.
Round the laps of their mothers
Many sisters and brothers,
Like birds in their nest,
Are ready for rest,
And sport no more seen
On the darkening green.


Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Violence Hurts: A Discussion Starter

The past three months we have all witnessed the horrible reports of the shooting at nearby Chardon High School, the shooting at the theater in Denver, and the shooting at the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin.  Young Travon Martin was just walking home with an iced tea when he was shot.  Innumerable other cases wind through the courts and across our TV screens daily.  Add to these the various wars and uprisings and the movie heroes that shoot first and ask (or not) questions later and one almost begins to think that violence is the only way to settle disputes. Not only is it not the only way, it isn't even close to being the best option, but it sure gets all the press.

The poem I am posting here is from one of my older books.  I am hoping that teachers might use this as a possible discussion starter/writing prompt, perhaps even an impetus for on-line research. 

There was lots of discussion around the house this morning about whether the police radio is too distracting in the background.  At least the wee video has Michael and me talking about it! 

If any students do write a poem or reflection in response, I hope some will share.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

A back to school poem

Here is a back to school poem for all my teacher/principal/student friends.  Or anyone who ever remembers being a student and who maybe, like me, thinks January 1st is somewhat anti-climatic.  The real new year begins in the fall. 

Poem is from my book Zombies!  Evacuate the School!  delightfully illustrated by Karen Sandstrom.