Smart Poem Gets it Right

Sometimes poems say everything and get it exactly right. After a long discussion yesterday with someone who believed that the only things schools should teach is “what you need to do in life,” I realized how awful that would be.

Most of what I do today didn’t exist when I was in school. I certainly did not study how to handle communication problems in the workplace while in college. I learned that from making communication mistakes in the workplace.

When I was in college, there were no blogs, no Twitter and no websites. There were no computers, cell phones, or faxes. (Yes, that was a long time ago.)

What I still use today is the problem solving I learned. How to think, not what to think. And, of course, that art is the benchmark of a culture. And I’m still using all that knowledge, years later. This poem knows so much I can still learn.

You and Art

Your exact errors make a music
that nobody hears.
Your straying feet find the great dance,
walking alone.
And you live on a world where stumbling
always leads home.

Year after year fits over your face—
when there was youth, your talent
was youth;
later, you find your way by touch
where moss redeems the stone;

and you discover where music begins
before it makes any sound,
far in the mountains where canyons go
still as the always-falling, ever-new flakes of snow.

—William Stafford, from You Must Revise Your Life

–Quinn McDonald reads poetry to learn about life.

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4 thoughts on “Smart Poem Gets it Right

  1. I had another idea about this. If you could learn what you really, truly were going to need in life, that might be pretty helpful. Not what some ideologue or self-important buffoon thinks you’re going to need — what you actually turn out to need.

    But what would that be, do you suppose?

  2. I consider myself fortunate in that I recognised that rules were there primarily for the convenience of the rule-maker and to either control others or to keep people safe – I didn’t need to be controlled and I was quite capable of making decisions about my own safety and have managed to survive unharmed into my 60s, I trust my decision making. At school in the 1950s and 60s, rules regarding hair and skirt length were just begging to be broken – I was and am quite capable of dressing myself without being told how. I loathed uniforms – no surprise there.
    So what do I do now? I’m a teacher who works with teachers to help students at risk – kids who are damaged, anxious, questioners, risk-takers, over-indulged, bullies and victims. I work with the square pegs being jammed into round holes and I admire their courage and creativity in getting their needs known and met. These are the kids for whom rules need to be creatively bent, broken and/or reframed to help them flourish into their own particular shape and form – to live mindfully, creatively.
    If I had been a compliant rule-follower I doubt I could do the job.

  3. My daughters survived “school”, but my experience as a parent made even clearer what I learned as a student: “school” as we’re doing it is pretty close to a complete failure. What is served, really, by acculturating children to submit to arbitrary and capricious authority, rigid schedules, adherence to inflexible routine and rules, and reinforcing ideas like “athletic achievements elevate the group; mental achievements elevate only the individual”.

    Colleges and universities function better — some of them at least. Earlier schools need radical change and possibly should no longer exist in any form we would recognize today. And I’m not talking about technology.

    • After walking through a public school here, I couldn’t agree more. The entire classroom situation is based on groups and collaborating. Individuality is sharply suppressed except in sports, where competition is taught the wrong way. We are heading into a very bad place by not caring about our schools.

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