We are in the grip of winter here in the UK and my Thursday Thoughts this week are filled with ice and snowflakes. Not snowflakes falling out of the sky, but rather the term used to characterise young adults of the 2010s who, in certain quarters, are viewed as being more prone to taking offence and less resilient than previous generations.
It appears the UK Government is pushing British youth to its limits and forcing them to learn poems by heart for examinations. The trauma such, a petition containing 160,000 names has been collected and asks for the practice to stop, allowing students to take text books containing the poems into examinations. The number of names on the petition means the matter must be raised and debated in Parliament. According to the report in the Daily Mail, the poems causing the most consternation are The Charge Of The Light Brigade, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Follower by Seamus Heaney.
The main crux of the argument centres around a task of learning 15 poems with a minimum of 300 lines of poetry and then being able to analyse them under exam conditions. Petitioners think this is too much. Isn’t one of the joys of poetry in the learning and reciting? There is no better feeling than reciting a poem from memory as it takes you into the heart and soul of the poem.
I remember at the age of 10 being given a school task to choose and memorise a piece of poetry. Being one for a challenge, I selected William Shakespeare’s All The Worlds A Stage, the monologue recited by Jacques in As You Like it. It was a struggle, but I can still capture the feeling of pride standing in front of my parents, teachers and class mates, reciting it word for word; although the lads at the rugby club kept me at arm’s length for a few weeks after.
Recent research by the University of Cambridge has found learning a poem by heart can be good for you and supports my view about getting to the heart of a poem. One of the authors of the study, Dr. Debbie Pullinger, said “Yes, it does seem that there is something special about committing a poem to memory. You’ve invested in it and made it yours. Learning, giving voice and understanding – these all go hand in hand.” The research also found learning a poem by heart had benefits for well-being and “having the potential to enrich lives over many years.”
What are your thoughts on this? Do you think the practice of learning poems verbatim for examinations is outdated and not necessary in this technological age? Maybe you have a story to share about a poem, or poems, you have learned by heart and how they had a positive impact for you. Whatever your thoughts I would love you to share them.