When Michael Salinger and I were teaching in Morocco, we were introduced to a new fashion trend. Teen girls were wearing the shortest of short shorts over tights and patterned stockings. They obviously had studied the student handbook, which probably said “no bare legs up to your bum” or some such language, and found a creative way to stay in compliance. They saw their window, and they took it.
The CCSS are market driven, of that there is no doubt. But much like commercials in between segments of a sitcom (say, the sitcom that masquerades as school reform) people will learn to live with them the same way we have learned to live with fast food, once size fits all, and bigger is better — with a healthy dollops of irony and skepticism and a little of what Michael calls middle school logic, “Hey, they didn’t say we couldn’t!”
So, until the next set of standards is cooked up to be stuffed down the digestive tract of public education, creative teachers will be heartened to find that although the CCSS don’t specifically mention writing poetry in the W strand, they don’t say you can’t write poetry as (say) informational text. They don’t say you can’t write a poem to demonstrate understanding of point of view. They don’t say you can’t write a persuasive poem. What the heck is a persuasive essay anyway? Certainly that’s more of a stretch than a persuasive poem — persuasive essays don’t even exist off the educational verbal playground. Poets have been trying to change hearts and minds since the days of foot-binding. If it was the intent of the marketing folks who created these standards to eliminate poetry from the curriculum, the CCSS are a pitifully poor attempt.
In RIT 4, it says that students should “interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning and tone.” But in the fine print it says, that these analyses will “serve as models for students’ own thinking and writing.” In other words, it is in the reading standards that the CCSS recommend using poetry as writing models, not the writing standards.
That’s one window. There are plenty of others. Those of us who know that poetry works as a means to lead young people to a better understanding of their world need to remain confident that jamming poetry into the windows of these standards will help young people grow in both their communication and thinking skills. Subversive infusions of poetry may even help kids on those bubble tests that no one has ever linked to success or happiness in life. It remains part of our jobs to open the windows and let poetry work in to work its magic.