All students can write, if we let them. The key, I think, is poetry.
As a poet myself, I have a love/hate relationship with schools. For the most part, schools have been a place for me to learn and grow. They’ve given me the chance to find readers of poetry and to connect with the poets of the past. I have found almost all my poetic brethren (dead poets who speak to me through their work) within a classroom setting.
However, because I am a poet, I am always searching for ways to change language. Schools are often a place for a certain sort of rigid language instruction, which can make them hostile environments for poets. Grammar and persuasive argument are essential skills for any student. But if someone is telling you that there is a set and finite way to construct a sentence — and you’re a poet — you will naturally get a little annoyed. And you will be justified in feeling this way, because it’s simply not true.
Nothing is more important to the future of humanity than the freedom to make new ideas. I would argue that the act of writing poetry is important for the creation of those new ideas.
In a book entitled The Having of Wonderful Ideas: And Other Essays on Teaching and Learning, Eleanor Duckworth explains that the most important thing a teacher can do is to give his or her students the space to have a new idea and feel good about having it. She argues that this is the key to intellectual development. I would argue that there’s no more natural space for a teacher to value a student’s idea than in a poem. Because in a poem, a student not only has the freedom to express a new idea, but to do so in novel language he or she has just created. More so than any other type of writing, a poem takes into account the indispensable dimension of well-chosen words.
Learning about poetry (how to read it, write it, and appreciate it) is an integral part of teaching students about all forms of writing. A poem is not just a place to present a student’s grammatical knowledge (in fact, it is often the space to subvert it!). Poetry, more than any other form of writing, trains students to take into account the style of language. This close looking and listening is crucial to writing well in any manner. It would be hard to say that any outstanding essay does not involve meticulous word choice or the ability to persuade a reader through sheer aesthetic prowess. Poetry teaches students how to do this.