Solo Café 8 & 9 is a volume written by teachers and students. It considers the relationships between teachers and students as well as the dynamic of an educational setting. Having such a diverse age range of writers with so many different experiences relating to education was enlightening. The writing follows a more autobiographical track filled with emotion, rather than being dominated by writers trained to excel as creative writers. The raw story takes precedence over any craft in storytelling. It made for a very interesting read, and there were some great contributions of poetry to dive into.
Kenneth F. Carroll writes a beautiful poem about a painting of Frederick Douglas on the second floor of Charles Hart Middle School. This information is given as a prelude to the poem, and I was able to immediately ground myself to that location. Going along with the educator’s theme, Carroll includes a quote by Douglas: “It is easier to build a strong child than to repair a broken man.” I thought a lot about that quote and what it says about our education system. There has been a lot of reform at both a local and national level in our education system, and it truly is an investment in our future. His poem begins:
The hallway patiently waits, yearns
for the meticulous brush of janitors
scraping away the vestiges of
children who do not understand
that they are the protagonists
in a centuries old drama full
of monsters and circumstances
waiting to devour them
The comparison of students to protagonists is a fitting and strong image. Each little mind holds so much potential and ability to grow, but most wisdom comes only with time and age; it is hard to understand your place in the world until you have seen it. Also, Carroll does not paint the world as a pretty place where childhood lives on forever. I enjoyed his description of the world being full of “monsters and circumstances”; you cannot predict every outcome as much as one might like to. There is so much adversity and struggle in our world; school is an important part of learning to protect and prepare oneself for what lies ahead.
Penny Harter takes on the perspective of the student and addresses the difficulty of balancing school and real life. I’m sure we can all relate to those days where serious things happened in our life outside of school, and the negative impact it had on our learning and/or completion of homework. In her poem, “Report from the Classroom,” Harter writes an honest, heartfelt series of events:
I didn’t finish my essay.
My brother’s been missing for over twenty-four hours.
We didn’t sleep all last night,
out looking for him.
He took my father’s rifle and sleeping bag,
so we think he’s in the swamp,
and it rained all night.
I particularly enjoyed the youthfulness of the narrator. The poem was not weighty with metaphors or imagery, but packed with emotion and straightforward storytelling. The last section blew me away; so often children question the practicality of getting an education. Will I ever use pre-calculus again? When will I need to read sheet music? Especially coming from this particular character, the point really hits home:
My little brother told me,
“I’m not doing my homework anymore
because I’m just going to die.”
He’s only ten years old.
I have been pleasantly surprised by the amount of curriculum that has been useful to me in my everyday life post-graduation, but I can’t say that I never questioned it when learning about pi.
Lastly, Dorraine Laux gives us a taste of what it is like to be a teacher. Her poem, “What the Teacher Learned this Week,” was humorous, witty, and honest. I almost wish she wrote one of these poems every week for a blog; I would be a very loyal reader. Here are a select few of her insightful stanzas:
That some Americans choose not to eat
meat, chicken, fish, dairy products,
certain vegetables, bread, salt.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
That watching the same thing happen over and over
is a version of hell.
That a boy’s mother will stand next to her car,
the door open, and wait for him forever.
It is so important for people to understand the concept of learning, and to see the value in it. We learn from everyone; it is not restricted by age or social standing, job title or gender. And, as Solo Café show us, we continue to learn even after we leave the school system.