Pioneer Institute’s Jamie Gass published an great op-ed on poetry in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette entitled: “Leaves of Memory Going Dark.”
April was National Poetry Month and there’s nowhere that designation should have more meaning than in Massachusetts, where John Adams’ 1780 state constitution explicitly instructs future leaders to “cherish the interests of literature.”
Every region of Massachusetts has produced great poets. Transcendentalists Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau lived in Concord, Emily Dickinson lived in prolific seclusion in Amherst, Herman Melville, who wrote Civil War poems, lived in Pittsfield, and Edgar Allan Poe, author of “The Raven” and other creepy tales, was born in Boston.
The Merrimack Valley has been referred to as the “Valley of the Poets” since Puritan author Anne Bradstreet and abolitionist poet John Greenleaf Whittier were buried there. In the Pioneer Valley, Greenfield has Poet’s Seat Tower overlooking the Connecticut River, a site named by the local Romantic sonneteer, Frederick Goddard Tuckerman.
More recently, Massachusetts has produced at least five United States Poets Laureate, including Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, Joseph Brodsky, Richard Wilbur and Robert Pinsky. At least another five Massachusetts poets have won Pulitzers and two more have won Nobel Prizes.
Along with the Pilgrims, codfish, Lexington and Concord, Horace Mann’s public schools, and the Kennedys — one of the commonwealth’s most lasting contributions to posterity is our gift of poetry.
The architects of the landmark 1993 education reform law understood and appreciated our literary heritage; that’s why Massachusetts public school students were reading much of the work produced by these and other ancient and modern poets.
The results of our students’ grounding in poetry, literature, and higher-level vocabulary have been outstanding. In 2005, the commonwealth’s fourth- and eighth-graders came out tops in the reading component of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the nation’s report card. In 2007, 2009 and 2011, each time the test was administered, they repeated that feat.
But a year or so ago, our students started learning 60 percent less about the many great Massachusetts poets and literary figures. That’s because the commonwealth ditched its nation-leading English standards for inferior national standards that will have students reading far less poetry, particularly in high school.
Read the whole fantastic op-ed here.