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Memorization and recitation of poems to be compulsory for British elementary school students.

“Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is….his house is….OH COME ON! Um, what’s the next line again?”    Don’t worry, you’ll only be docked a few marks for failing to memorize and correctly recite the poem in front of your classmates.  That is, if you’re an elementary school student in England.

As part of a major overhaul of the national curriculum of England, children as young as five will be expected to memorize and recite poetry.

According to an article in the Guardian, the poetry curriculum is part of education secretary Michael Gove’s initiative to create a rigorous English program that will ensure students leave primary school with high standards of literacy.

From The Guardian. "Michael Gove, the education secretary, wants to make English teaching at primary schools more rigorous." Photograph: Graeme Robertson

Beginning at age five, kids will be exposed to poetry by their teachers and will start to memorize and recite simple poems. Students will learn appropriate intonation techniques, and will build up a repertoire of memorized poems increasing each year.

“More generally the curriculum will place a much stronger emphasis on reading for pleasure with children from Year 1 “becoming very familiar with key stories, fairy stories and traditional tales”.”

Already critics are warning that Gove is turning back the clock fifty years, and that memorization will impede creativity and appreciation.  Scott Griffin, who presides over England’s most prestigious poetry award, worries that “  by poetry, what the government might really mean is “poetry”, or POETRY – that is, grist for the spoken English competition, in which students at my school were expected to stand on a stage and chew their way through The Lady of Shalott in a feigned and foreign RP accent….if learning ”by heart” might actually mean learning by rote, then I’d prefer poetry to have no part in it.”


With all due to respect to Griffin, I don’t think he knows what it likes to grow up without poetry. While he can whip out a repertoire of beautiful verses for every personal and public occasion, that is sadly not the case for most North American children and adults.  Even nursery rhymes are disappearing from the repertoire of young children.  That’s a shame, since poetry teaches word economy, develops vocabulary and auditory skills, and is generally inspiring.  Recitation is an excellent way to develop skills in public speaking.

Since poetry at school is not on the horizon, I have a new goal this summer:  Read a poem a day with the kids! “Read Aloud Poems for Young People” is a resource I go back again and again.


What do you think:  Should memorization and recitation of poetry be compulsory at schools?





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