Criticisms of the Common Core curriculum have mostly centered on its staunch adherence to keeping things new, fresh and relevant. English classrooms are now asked to tether their readings to current events, rather than focusing on timeless works, for fear of losing students’ interest.
That’s good news for students hoping to enter fields like science, tech, and journalism. Not-so-good news for those interested in the arts. Even kids who don’t aspire to write poetry might benefit from reading it, however; it aids in self-reflection and pattern-forming.
But classic poetry hasn’t been exiled from public school classrooms just yet. Organizations like Get Lit, a nonprofit based in LA and run by executive director and former teacher Diane Luby Lane, are keeping it alive.
Founded in 2006, Get Lit began as a one-woman show performed by Lane, which blossomed into a curriculum she began teaching at public high schools in California. Today, her lesson plans meet Common Core standards, and are taught at over 100 public high schools in the state.
The premise of the lesson-plan-turned-artwork is simple: participants select classic poems, then write and perform their own spoken-word responses. The poems then can qualify for the organization’s Classic Slam. Some have even been selected to be included in a book published earlier this fall, Get Lit Rising: Words Ignite. Claim Your Poem. Claim Your Life.
According to the publisher, the teens included in the book come from a diverse array of backgrounds ― some battle with mental illness or eating disorders, others have parents who are in jail, and still others are homeless.
Lane asserts that classic poetry isn’t just the language of the privileged. In an interview with LA Weekly, she said, “It makes me so angry because we decide, ‘Well, if you’re going to go to classes, you better bring hip-hop here because that’s what the kids like.’ We just dumb stuff down.”
Lane believes both hip-hop and the classics matter. That both Walt Whitman and Kendrick Lamar deserve to go down in history and to be taught in schools. It seems, at last, that school administrators are listening.