Tuesday, March 31, 2009

From the Heart

April is National Poetry Month, so I decided to try a creative writing assignment with my high school Current Events group.

After a discussion about the nature and characteristics of poetry, I asked students to compose a poem or song lyric dealing with one of the topics we've examined in class. Since this includes everything from the election to volunteerism to Michael Phelps to assorted teen issues, I was confident that there'd be enough choices to please everyone.

When I mentioned sharing their creations with others, perhaps publishing them in a leaflet, one boy put his head down and opted out. He said that if he had to use "school appropriate" language, he couldn't write what he felt and would be unable to talk about life as he sees it. A few others were uncomfortable with the idea of having administrators read their honest opinions about drug use and other controversial subjects.

At that point, I paused to consider the purpose of this exercise. This was neither an English Language Arts class nor a literary club. If I wanted authentic response, I would have to respect the writers' desire for confidentiality. I believe that students should have the right to decide how their original works are used. They would not be writing for me, the school, or the world at large: they would be writing for themselves.

We reached a compromise. Students could write "Private" on the assignment and I'd guarantee them that only I would read the poems. Each class member would receive a grade of 100% for participating.

My reluctant student composed a haunting lyric about loss and loneliness. The language was not obscene, just full of pain. I hope that some day he will share his words with others. For now, his cry from the heart is safe with me.

"self expression: heart-of-stone" by cauchisavona

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