Free to Dream: The Making of a Poet, a biography of Langston Hughes (my favorite poet of all time), and I am struck by his educational background. While Hughes did very well in primary school and high school and was praised by his teachers for his love of learning, Hughes, one of our most celebrated American poets, was a college dropout. His first attempt at college was a failure. He went to Columbia University on his father's dime, and after one year decided that he preferred to read books and attend lectures instead of go to class.
I'm struck by this new piece of information I learned about Hughes today because, by all intents and purposes, he should have been a model student: he loved learning, did well all throughout his K-12 education, and was often recognized for his writing prowess by his teachers and classmates. If that's not a formula for someone who should succeed in college, then I don't know what is.
But that's just it. Education can't be whittled down to a formula - numbers to crunch, multiple choice questions to answer. By today's educational reformers, Hughes would be considered a failure. Politicians would deem him a product of a failed system and no doubt his teachers would be blamed (and perhaps fired) for his inability to understand physics and trigonometry, which were the classes he chose to skip and ultimately drop out of Columbia.
But in the 1920s, Hughes used his passion for writing and poetry to seek out like-minded, accomplished people who took him under their wing and nurtured his passion and talent, which we now know turned him into one of the most beloved writers in all of American history. I continue to wonder how people responsible for making decisions about education today can be so narrow minded and refuse to see past the numbers and into the minds and hearts of our students. While we're busy trying to "race to the top", students' needs and talents are disregarded. (Does anyone else see the irony in the fact that Arne Duncan has deemed "No Child Left Behind" a failure yet, with a name like "Race to the Top", the initiative which he created to replace NCLB, isn't the very nature of a race to leave people behind?)
|Langston Hughes: a CCSS poster boy he is not (photo: Poetry Foundation)|
I've been scarred and battered.
My hopes the wind done scattered.
Snow has friz me, sun has baked me.
Looks like between 'em
They done tried to make me
Stop laughin', stop lovin', stop livin' --
But I don't care!
I'm still here!
from "Still Here" by Langston Hughes
Originally posted at A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust