words worth memorizing

To follow up the last post which spoke of the literary interventions being undertaken in public schools to combat HIB, here’s an interesting, if not controversial challenge and thought.

While I’m not suggesting that we go back to McGuffey readers, there is something to be said about filling students’ heads with memorable, character-building messages to counterbalance the purposefully “dark and edgy” messages being fed to them by some “with-it” recreational children’s litter-ature today.

I can just imagine that pooh-pooh’s that this post will conjure. No matter.

While kids have always been “just kids” and generation gaps written about in Socratic times could have been written about today, if you have taught for a number of decades, I’m confident that you would agree that there is in schools today a growing blatant verbal disrespect for peers, as well as for authority, that exceeds past disrespects.

Although I’m not accusing the “tell-it-like-it-is” trash talk that characters spew forth, even in beginning series books, as being totally responsible, I am suggesting that what students fill their heads with often comes out–not unexpectedly– through their mouths.

Why not fill students’ heads with character-building thoughts?

For example…(although not necessarily in these exact 19C. words):

“Keep a watch on your words, my darling, for words are powerful things. They’re sweet like the bees’ sweet honey; like the bees they have terrible stings.”

When I was nine years old, many decades ago, my fourth grade teacher forced us to hand-copy and memorize those opening lines (as I now recall them), as well as the rest of the lines of a rather lengthy poem,  “Words of Beautiful Truth.”

(Making students memorize poems. Teachers did that then; they don’t now. For lots of educationally sound reasons, totally apart from character education and development, maybe they “should” now and again.)

If you want to read the entire poem, you can find it online (as I was amazed and delighted to do when I searched by its opening lines this week).

It is one of the selections that appears in the 1887 compiled volume of Little Poems for Little Children: Suitable for Memorizing for Recitation at School and at Homehttp://archive.org/stream/littlepoemsforli00camp/littlepoemsforli00camp_djvu.txt

Interestingly, in introducing the collection, the compiler, Valeria J. Campbell, offers persuasive thoughts to teachers about the benefits to their students of having them fill their minds with “choice things,” such as the selections in the compiled volume.

At the time that I was a “little” nine year old child, I had no idea of the lasting impact a “little” poem that I was forced to hand-copy and memorize by my fourth grade teacher would have on my character development.

True, the title I remembered (“Words of Beautiful Truth”) differs from the title of the poem as it appears in the 1887 internet compiled volume (“Keep a Watch on Your Words”).

Yet, as an adult who often hears both sets of those words echo in my mind and heart, I continue to surprise myself, not only that I remember the words–at least the first stanza–pretty much verbatim, but that the entire “gist” of the poem, which I joyfully read and remembered–is something I have “permanently” learned–if not always perfectly practiced.

Want to stop HIB?

Why not make memorable for students the idea that words can hurt and that they should refrain from using them to harass, intimidate, and bully?

Why not provide opportunities for students to memorize anti-HIB poems?

Can’t hurt. Worth it if even just one fewer child or adult is stung by mean words.

What do you think?

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