Pitching Poetry

Last Wednesday I went to Ness Gardens on the Wirral to teach a poetry course based on the themes of gardens, nature, and Spring. I’ve been organising this kind of course in Continuing Education at the University of Liverpool for a few years now but this was the first time I’ve actually taught on one. I have to admit it was a great pleasure, but it also threw into relief the other teaching I’ve done recently. The students, who were mostly retired, were well-read and attentive, and more importantly willing to play the game. In my recent experience many modern undergraduates are a lot less prepared to accept the presupposition–even for the purposes of classroom discussion–that what they are reading is worth reading and talking about for its own sake. This doesn’t apply to all of them of course, probably not even a majority, but a a large enough number to have an effect on the way a seminar group works.

If my impression is right this is going to be quite a challenge for educators in the very near future. Not only has the authority of academics and institutions been eroded–with some justification–over the last 20 or 30 years, but the value of what they are teaching is no longer taken as a given. While scepticism can be healthy in some contexts, it’s not always so useful in a trusted educational setting. Students should certainly ask questions of their tutors–and the students on the poetry course last week were not soft–but if there isn’t some agreement on the fundamental value of what is being taught, a lot of time is going to be wasted doing sales pitches rather than teaching.

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