This past week, amidst final preparations for the coming week's administration of the English 11 Regents exam, my classes and I took a break from multiple-guessing and formulaic paragraph writing to read and very preliminarily analyze Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, "The Psalm of Life." (The poem is available to be read and listened to above as well as read online at Poets.org).
My purpose in sharing this particular piece was two-fold: first, to use Longfellow's treatise on making life meaningful as a means of building background for our future reading of Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild, and secondly, as a way to indirectly suggest one view of life's course. Though meeting standards on a watered-down assessment may find one clerically "farther than to-day" (line 12), lost among the non-fiction frenzy and technical writing is that which most teachers went to college for. Most undergraduates hope to use literature as a means of offering a path for students so that "in the bivouac of life,/Be not like dumb, driven cattle!/Be a hero in the strife!" (lines 18-20)
While one supposes there is room for both testing and "art," it is unfortunate for all involved (students, teachers, and, ultimately, our community), that demonstrating superficial-level understanding via standardized testing continues to be the priority. The challenge becomes for teachers and students to look for ways to move beyond the "forlorn and ship-wrecked brother" (line 31) testing seeks to make us, to pursue and achieve the innate value of literary studies.