ONE TEACHER’S WHITMAN
“All this I swallow, it tastes good, I like it well, it becomes mine.”
-- from “Song of Myself”, Section 33
My scholars have to “swallow” a lot in English class – and in their chock-a-block lives – and I hope I can gently persuade them to appreciate the good “taste” of all of it. It’s all about acceptance, one of the most strategic skills young people can learn. For me, an important goal as a teacher is to help the kids see that every experience has something good in it for them – some seed of wisdom, some small spring of refreshing understanding – and the best approach to living is to humbly accept whatever situation unfolds before them. Shakespeare reminds us, in As You Like It, that the “uses of adversity” are “sweet” – that even being homeless and poor in the middle of a forest can be rewarding beyond measure – and I trust that I can bring some of that awareness to my scholars. Just prior to the above quote, Whitman had listed several pages of “good” and “bad” situations, but then says they all “taste good, I like [them] well.” What’s even more important is what he says next, that they all become his. Instead of resisting the so-called “bad” parts of life, he does the opposite: he welcomes everything into his life, which serves to magically diminish and even sometimes neutralize the supposed “evil” aspects. It’s the epitome of non-violence: by greeting and making the cordial acquaintance of adversity, Whitman is able to discover the sweetness – the wisdom – inside it. I’m sure there is some sweetness in every aspect of English class (even in grammar work, even in tests and exams), and I hope the kids in my classes can discover it. It will take great patience, alertness, and a steady attitude of acceptance and approval. Like Duke Senior in Shakespeare’s play, who found “sermons in stones”, they must look for the “good in everything” in Room 2.