Education Under the Radar

Watercolor of Fort Worth Flatiron Building Just Sold

Watercolor of Fort Worth Flatiron Building Just Sold

Introduction to Poetry

BY BILLY COLLINS

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.
When lunchtime arrived, I had completed my first week of the spring semester at Arlington Martin High School.  One minute after the last student filed out of my English II class, the door swung open and another student entered who was not on today’s roster (we’re on a block schedule; she was in one of yesterday’s classes).  She was soon followed by another, then another.  Seven students casually clustered in the back of my classroom, and the first girl read the poem above.  Fifty-five minutes later, the bell rang, ending the lunch hour, and the students had not yet had time to peak.  They had moved from Collins to Keats to Shelley to Wordsworth to Frost to Eliot to Browning to Williams to Stevens and . . . no doubt I have left out some names.
This was not a scheduled meeting.  They were not my English II students, but students from regular and A. P. Art History classes and past Philosophy classes.  Some of them are not even my current students anymore.  And this spontaneous outpouring of poetry lay far outside the box of literary analysis.  I would call it a phenomenological exploration, as ideas from the poetry were meshed with philosophy, art history and personal experiences.  Before the hour ended, we were discussing multiple intelligences and theories gleaned from the books of Howard Gardner from the 1990’s.  We discussed Picasso, Hopper, Dali, Pollock, Warhol. There were no apparent limits to the imagination and curiosity of the students.
I really don’t know what to say this evening as I reflect on this encounter.  I knew such a group of thirsty students before–way back in 1990.  They would invite me into their homes, we would fill living rooms with bodies and discussions, and I would drive home afterward, overflowing with this indescribable feeling of educational bliss.  Throughout the ensuing decades, I have wondered countless times if such a student-driven movement would ever occur again as it had in 1990, and arrived at the assumption that it would not.  And now the surge has returned.  This current core of enthusiastic explorers has been intact since the beginning of the fall semester, and they have visited my classroom at lunch nearly every week, though they very seldom notify me in advance that they are coming.
This is the level of education that fulfills all my dreams.  These are the moments that fly under the radar.  The students don’t get class credit for coming into my room at lunchtime.  No grades are given.  There are no lesson plans.  I don’t lecture, though the students are constantly digging out journals and scribbling notes from what I say or what they are saying among themselves.  They come into class with their books, their journals, their smart phones, but above all, their ideas and contagious enthusiasm.  And moments like this will not be included in superintendents’ or principals’ end-of-the-year reports.  They will not be addressed in my summative meeting.  These encounters will not be recorded on spreadsheets or discussed under the heading of common assessments.  They cannot be measured.
It is my opinion that most of the politically-induced directives that comprise public education in this day have managed to suck all the joy and enthusiasm out of learning.  So it stirs my blood to watch these students put the joy right back in where it belongs.  And they are doing it on their own time, driven by their own spontaneous agendas.  I’m very, very privileged to catch this wave.
When school ended, and the last student left, I drove to the Dallas Museum of Art to view the Hopper/Drawing exhibit again that ends February 16.  I hope I can visit it several more times before it goes away.  I spent the closing hours of the museum seated in the cafe, drawing in my moleskine journal, overwhelmed again at the draftsmanship reflective of Hopper’s compositional and value sketches.  One of my New Year resolutions is to sketch more consistently and in a more explorative fashion.
Finally, I posted the above watercolor because I was notifiied yesterday that it has sold.  I’m thrilled that it has finally found a home, and have considered it one of my best works over the past few years.
Thanks for reading.
I paint in order to remember.
I journal when I feel alone.
I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.
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8 Responses to “Education Under the Radar”

  1. Playamart - Zeebra Designs Says:

    this is absolutely beautiful and so inspiring! how wonderful it is that they find solace in your ‘timeout’ room where they can rejoice in the written word, in the arts, in the pleasure of the company of kindred spirits!

    you surely felt as if you were witnessing a miracle, and i hope that there’s a way to make this kind of awakening go viral!!

    that’s what makes on look forward to getting out of bed and going to work!

    congratulations, as well, on selling that beautiful painting!

    Like

    • davidtripp Says:

      Thank you. I have wondered throughout this day if something such as this could spread. I would love to see students spreading this kind of positive “propaganda” and igniting one another’s fires.

      Like

  2. smilecalm Says:

    enjoy the insights and happy teaching moments!
    may you and other teachers get the support
    and recognition deserved for educating 🙂

    Like

  3. Bonnie Says:

    Sounds like you encountered (and enjoyed!) one of the nuggets of gold that LIfe has hidden along the way. 😉 Must be truly exciting as a teacher to find this kind of group. And congrat’s on the painting! I thought of this one just a day or two ago.

    Like

  4. lindahalcombfineart Says:

    I love this painting!

    Like

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