Thursday, September 16, 2021

Poetry Friday: History

There were lots of things to write about this week, but unfortunately no time or emotional bandwidth to write. I just know that Frederick Buechner says to pay attention to things that make you cry, and there were a bunch of those this week. 

For example, today a middle schooler wrote an essay about the assassination of the president of Haiti this summer. She described exactly how he died, because it was reported in minute detail in the news. She said it was the worst way of dying she had ever heard of, and she's not wrong. I wish she didn't know all those specifics. I wish I didn't know them. She ended with a list of things the people who didn't like the president could have done instead, if they weren't happy with him. One of them was that they could have sent him an email.

How do you even respond to this? I really don't know. I told her that her piece was hard to read because the true things she wrote are so painful. But, I said, she had done a good job. I fixed her spelling. 

Here's Billy Collins writing about a teacher who tried to tone things down for his students. It wasn't very effective. I find myself wanting to protect my kids from the world, but it's really not possible, is it?

The History Teacher

by Billy Collins

Trying to protect his students' innocence

he told them the Ice Age was really just

the Chilly Age, a period of a million years 

when everyone had to wear sweaters.

And the Stone Age became the Gravel Age,

named after the long driveways of the time.

The Spanish Inquisition was nothing more

than an outbreak of questions such as

"How far is it from here to Madrid?"

"What do you call the matador's hat?"

The War of the Roses took place in a garden,

and the Enola Gay dropped one tiny atom

on Japan.

The children would leave his classroom

for the playground to torment the weak

and the smart,

mussing up their hair and breaking their glasses,

while he gathered up his notes and walked home

past flower beds and white picket fences,

wondering if they would believe that soldiers

in the Boer War told long, rambling stories

designed to make the enemy nod off.

Denise has the roundup today. Happy First Roundup, Denise!


KatApel - said...

Oh, Ruth. So hard. This encounter with your student really says so much. I don't know what you both know - and I don't want to. No TV is a benefit so often. (But what is the (social?)media thinking, to put details like that about, so that children lose their innocence, and villains are further empowered?) You did right, in your response.šŸ˜¢

Denise Krebs said...

Ruth, the History Teacher poem by Billy Collins is perfect for your week. It is a constant battle, isn't it? Truth vs. protection. Your post somehow reminds me of Kat's "Speak Love" poem she wrote. Sometimes speaking love is also speaking honesty and truth to power and about history. It sounds like you chose your comments wisely for the girl who wrote. Would that we could all find better ways to handle the pain.

Rose Cappelli said...

The struggle between truth and honesty is so real. We know kids must learn to deal with tough subjects but we want so much to protect them. Billy Collins' poem is so point on. Thanks for sharing, and for being there for your students.

Janice Scully said...

Your student are fortunate to have a teacher like you. I've been thinking a lot lately about how children aren't told the truth about so many things in school and at home. The Collins poem is powerful!

Linda B said...

Your question about what is right to let our children know is a tough one. My older granddaughter was given Anne Frank's diary from a teacher when she was in 4th grade. She was interested in diaries, thus this lending. Yet, it brought out questions, then knowledge of the Holocaust, not something her mother wanted to explain, yet. Today it seems there is so much available to our children, like your student. I admire your answer to her, giving her support for her wanting to make things better. That is great. I'm unsure about Billy Collins' teacher's answer, but it really is a comment on our world, isn't it?

jama said...

Wow, yes so hard -- and painful. Still, it's good the student had an outlet to express her reaction to such a tragic event, and an empathic teacher to support her. The Collins poem was the perfect choice for your experience this week.

Karen Eastlund said...

Ruth...the dilemma you describe is a challenge for all of us, but your situation so much heavier. Yours was a good honest response. My heart goes out to you. Alas, we can't fix it all. The Collins poem was new to me and perfect for this topic. Thanks.

Linda Mitchell said...

I'm sure you are feeling the effects of the summer. It's hard for poets to hold so much. Billy Collins fit the bill. Take care, friend.

Susan T. said...

Your student is really thinking about what she has witnessed, even if it's "filtered" through the tv or radio. It's impressive, and at the same time heartbreaking.

Carol Varsalona said...

Ruth, I believe that teachers for the most part want to shelter their students from the not-for-children's-eyes-and-ears" parts of life. We can't do it all but try. I recall 9/11/01. It was around 10 when the news started breaking. Our students were in grades 1-4, so little to understand the atrocities. We wanted desperately to protect while we wept in silence or kept our emotions in tack. Your student wrote what was reported and your responded with care and concern in your heart. Thanks for sharing.

Carol Coven Grannick said...

So hard to sort and select for different developmental levels, as well as individual needs/abilities to process. Different, of course, from tamping down issues or softening realities.

Michelle Kogan said...

I like that you were supportive and honest with your student and her essay, I think such honesty pouring out from a child in search of answers and understanding of tragedies deserves our honesty in return, as tenderly and honest as we can be. I like Linda B. am not sure about Billy Collin's poem either, it's definitely a difficult area to navigate, and there sure is an awful lot of tragedy around us. Thanks Ruth.

Elisabeth said...

I’m glad that your student has a safe place, your classroom, in which to process her feelings about that event, and an adult in her life who acknowledges the impact of that event, instead of trying toto diminish or dilute it. That Billy Collins poem is one to make us all stop and think. Thank you for sharing this story and this poem with us today.

Karen Edmisten said...

Oh, Ruth, yes, what we're really wishing for is a different world, isn't it? One that doesn't require such brutal explanations made necessary by brutal realities. I love your protective instincts for your students, and the bittersweet inclusion of the Billy Collins poem.

Heidi Mordhorst said...

Ruth, thank you for being in the world with us, with your student, with the President of Haiti, with Frederic Buechner, with Billy Collins, with me. You make it all more thoughtful, gentler.

Mary Lee said...

Perfect poem to pair with your experience. How to respond to the student? "I told her that her piece was hard to read because the true things she wrote are so painful. But, I said, she had done a good job." sounds just right to me. Keep bringing your heart to the classroom and encouraging your students to confront the truths in the world with their hearts.