At the risk of being the 20th person to do so, (and apologies in advance
if I am)--Jamie's letter detached and in ascii--as Marci requested.
All the Best
127 Huron Ave. North Ottawa K1Y 0W3
November 7, 1996
Letter to the Editor of The Globe and Mail
My daughter is in grade nine; my son in grade five. In their entire
school lives, neither has been required by a teacher to memorize a poem.
Last year, I asked two people at the Ottawa Board of Education why
memory work is no longer a part of the curriculum. "Rote learning isn't
very useful," a curriculum specialist told me.
I spoke to a language arts specialist. I said that I thought most
people benefit from knowing some poetry by heart, and that it would be a
good idea for students in Ontario to be able to recite some of the same
poems this, as a small step toward building a common culture. She
said: "But who would choose the poems? You'd never get agreement as to
what poems those should be."
I suggested that at this time of the year, "In Flanders Fields" was an
obvious choice. It is, I pointed out, one of Canada's greatest war
poems, a eulogy that speaks to future generations, and a poem of perfect
metre and a flawless register of language. "Some parents might object
to the sentiment expressed," the Board employee replied.
I'm not sure why memorization is out of fashion with our teachers and
educational specialists. I would have thought that knowing a few
classic poems by heart would be a good thing. A rich memory, one might
think, is indispensable to intellectual growth. And I'm also not sure
why the notion of a common culture is so difficult. Without common
cultural reference points, citizens cannot converse, and cannot work
toward the ideal of a civil society.
The teachers themselves are too young to have fought for freedom. They
can, however, help our students to understand freedom as an ideal. One
way they can do this (an important way, I think) is by getting students
to memorize the best of our war poetry, which provides a window on the
contingency and historicity of freedom.
If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep, McCrae wrote. If
our schools fail to encourage cultural memory, it will be the living who
sleep, in an unremembering oblivion.
j a m e s b r o w n
Centre for the Support of Teaching
S Ross 834
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