My wife and I are teaching our own writing camp this week, and today’s assignment was to based a poem loosely on Billy Collins’ poem, “On Turning Ten.” This idea instantly occurred to me as I wrote along with our students, and here’s the result, for what it’s worth.
On Becoming Standardized
(Inspired by Billy Collins’ “On Turning Ten”)
The whole idea makes me feel like I’m being unmade,
Like I’m being dissolved like an Alka-Seltzer, fizzing and whining,
But ultimately disappearing , losing my solid form to join an amorphous mass,
Or I am a unique, handcrafted piece of art being thrown on an assembly line
To be mashed into a widget.
I am being assimilated by the Borg,
Fitted up with their mechanical parts, my mind part of the hive-mind.
Resistance is futile.
You tell me it is for the best—systemic change.
But maybe you never really experienced the magic for yourself.
Maybe you never experienced the teachable moment
Or the flash of insight that showed you how to take a mind
From where it was to where you’d like it to be,
Or the vision, bigger than a #2 bubble, of what you want them to do,
Who you want them to be,
What you want them to see,
Where you want them to go in the still solitudes of their minds,
Or the moment when a child sees beyond the horizon you have lead them to
And teaches you.
But now I am at the front of my room,
Doling out the same pages of a workbook as the teachers
In room 219 or 222.
They don’t let us paint our walls any more, or put up posters
That amuse or delight.
Everything must be learning targets, or instructions for aiming
Or holding the bow or arrows in better alignment.
And my room becomes a sterile space, devoid of life.
Rubrics are posted,
And lists of strategies, as if we were at war or playing a team sport.
And my own pens and notebooks sit unused, their brainstorms swept out to sea,
Their black and white thunder and lighting silenced.
This is the end of a calling and the beginning
Of going through the motions—of having a job.
I walk to my room but it no longer feels like home, or a studio, or a garden,
But like a data processing plant, a factory.
They want me to put away childish things,
And drive me toward grown up goals: bigger, higher numbers.
It seems like only last week
I used to believe
There was nothing in my room but light,
The igniting of flames, and then fires, and sometimes blazes.
But now I see rows of buckets,
And the steady, measured dripping that fills them. I cry.