My high school experience included eight different high schools in four years. Seven high schools on the Wasatch Front in Utah, finally graduating from Camden-Rockport High School, Camden, Maine. During my high school career, I was unfortunate enough to be placed into several classes called “Language Arts,” “Literature Arts,” or something similar, plastic words covering the fact that I needed more English credits to graduate. In my first “Literature Arts” experience, I was hoping to explore books, literature, and as a young bibliophile (book nerd) I was excited to study literature.
Shortly reality would snuff out the excitement. Shakespeare is not the only author of note in the Renaissance period, and those other authors are easier and more fun to read. Poems and poetry are not the same things. Forcing high school kids to spend an entire semester on Emily Dickins and Edgar Allen Poe’s writings is sufficient to make suicidal depression seem like a jolly good time! Not a single literature arts class covered Kipling! Not a single class ever covered Aesop. None of the lessons put the art in literature arts, which made the classes boring.
It has only been recently that I understood why these classes were designed this way. I am still struggling with having my time and mental energies wasted in such a grotesque fashion. Worse, being a young bibliophile, I had already been exposed to Emily Brontë, Hemmingway, Kipling (poems and stories), the Greek and Roman Myths, and so much more.
In Junior High School, Crosby Junior High School, Belfast, Maine. The school was ancient, used to be the high school until the district built a new high school. Crosby Junior High was a gothic building, very imposing, but it had the coolest library. On my first day in Junior High, I bet the librarians that before leaving, I would have checked out all the books, read them, and returned them. I might not have gotten them all, but I explored every inch of that library, supplemented my reading from the Belfast Maine Library, and read books! Lots and Lots of Books!
By this point, I bet most of those who will read, or glance through this post, are thinking, BORING!
Bear with me, please.
Where is the art in Literature Arts?
Believe it or not, you bring the art to literary arts. Sure, authors will cast the story, set the stage, and prepare well to inspire you, but you bring the art. For example, I can give you a paint set, a charcoal set, pencils, paper, canvas, and every other art supply available, but you have to wield the brushes, pencils, tools to create the masterpiece. The fact that you, the student, are the art bringer to literature arts, should be the first lesson taught, but it is never mentioned. It is sad that many people have been turned off by something that should have turned them on. Worse, the second lesson in literature arts is the requirement for time with the materials to understand the meaning, grasp intent, and apply to a life of living.
For example, take the poem of Joseph Malins, “The Ambulance Down in the Valley.” A political poem about how well-intentioned, people come together about a problem and perform an illogical action. This poem has always left me laughing at the silliness of people in government. Only lately have the townspeople’s hysterical treatment of the fence supporter been represented in real life, and the poem has lost some of the humor.
Three favorite childhood poems, the authors are listed with links to the poems, Ernest Lawrence Thayer, Grantland Rice, and Clarence P. McDonald, all deal with Casey’s singular topic at the bat. A baseball series of poems that comforted me during my first horrendous year at little league baseball. I couldn’t hit, I failed at catching, and only because my mother paid in full was I stuck playing an entire season of little league baseball. That first awful year of baseball was nothing short of embarrassing! The second year, I had improved, challenged, and won the position of catcher, and learned how to hit, after a ton of frozen fingers playing ball in the snows of a Maine winter. I can honestly say, an aluminum bat in a Maine winter is no fun to grab! But during those long hours remembering my first year of Little League, the poems about Casey at the Bat were always there, and that made all the difference.
When I was eleven, January, turning twelve in February, a person I admired introduced me to a poem that has defined, taught, and corrected me since that January day. The poem “Good Timber” by Douglas Malloch. Before this period and this poem, I never could tell the difference between a poem and poetry. A poem changes your life; poetry paints pretty pictures. The first poem, that first mental chord struck in life, what an experience. How grateful I am to the man who introduced me to this poem, a potential meaning, and taught a young man how to feel.
I would bet dollars to doughnuts, for I love good apple fritters, that everyone has heard of the author Rudyard Kipling and probably have heard his poem, “If.” When you bring the art to literary arts, this poem moves from poetry to poetic power. As a kid, I never could understand some parts of this poem, “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster – And treat those two impostors just the same.” I could not imagine triumph as an impostor, then I witnessed lottery winners, athletes, and Hollywood people, and the waste that occurs, and understood.
Why are literature arts hard?
There are three reasons. One, literature arts is not just reading, but also writing, imagining, exploring the art inside you; but it is rarely taught in this manner. Two, the age of the mind during literature arts is unprepared for drawing lessons from materials for application to life through reflection on experiences. Reflection must be taught, and too often, reflection is refused as a topic in a classroom.It has taken a lot for me to find the poetic power in Kipling’s poem “Pharaoh and the Sergeant.” In fact, I had to serve in the US Army and then enlist in the US Navy, to have sufficient life experience to understand. As a side note, I wish England had said to France, “I must make a man of you; That will stand upon his feet and play the game; That will Maxim his oppressor as a Christian ought to do.” The world would have lost fewer people in WWI and WWII.
My penmanship is deplorable, but penmanship is rarely taught anymore, considered a wasted subject, but in killing penmanship, the art in literature arts dies just a little more. But what is penmanship, really? Some will erroneously claim, penmanship is writing cursive. Detestable ignorant blaggards! Penmanship is the science of writing the symbols of language neatly, precisely, cleanly, and writing in a manner that is interesting to read. As a K-12 student, penmanship meant cursive, and cursive meant I was going to suck! Why isn’t penmanship a daily practical lesson for K-12 students? Mainly because of the third and final reason literature arts is being murdered. Three, reducing literacy through abusing literature arts was a design characteristic in K-12 Education since the 1860s and John Dewey; for he looked upon literate people and loathed them, and children have struggled ever since.
We, the inheritors of intentionally designed poor education, must wake up, put on the work boots, and go to work learning literacy and literary arts. We are then responsible for teaching these lessons to our children so freedom and liberty can flourish and prosper again in America. Literacy and literature arts is a fight we cannot afford to lose!
© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
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