My students want to jump to conclusions.
Give them a text, a work of art to view and consider, a billboard, a musical selection…they will make one observation and immediately either evaluate or interpret. I am pleased that young people want to find meaning in so many things–or at least understand that they might be able to find meanings–but I want to tell them to slow down.
It’s tempting to suggest that “kids today” want instant gratification, are spoiled by having instant Google searches on their iPhones, or have no work ethic. I do not think that is true. Perhaps we have not taught our young people how to look, describe, analyze what it is they are noticing. It’s not that they are incapable of these steps; they just do not know that they know them. I think some of my students don’t even realize that they do notice things.
Really, who has not made snap judgments, or interpreted something–a work of art, a remark in passing–without thoughtful analysis? Guilty as charged, in my own case. But I am still learning, and my patience with my own learning process should carry over to my students; at least, I strive for that.
I notice the urge to leap to interpretation most when I am teaching the survey of poetry classes. Students know that poems are supposed to mean, not be (MacLeish got through); but they lack the confidence to explore meaning on their own, in their own ways. They get frustrated and want to find experts to tell them what the poet meant. Delving into their own uncertainties is frightening to them. They’re just out of high school, where they learned that it’s wrong to be “wrong.”
So many good texts out there try to convince students (or other interested, frustrated readers) that there are other ways to be with a poem, to explore, discuss, notice, and find meaning. I read such books to find inspiration for my teaching, for my students, and for myself. When I have time to get back to this post, I’ll begin a list in the comments box below. Meanwhile, if you have suggestions, add them below. I’m always looking for more ideas, more good books, more reasons not to jump to conclusions.