Thursday, September 17, 2009


“... There gentle sleep
First found me, and with soft oppression seised
My droused sense…”
--Adam, in Paradise Lost

When I came across these lines this morning before school, I was immediately struck by the odd combination of “soft” and “oppression”, and I began to wonder whether it actually describes what I sometimes employ in my classroom. Of course, oppression is usually thought of as being heavy-handed and antagonistic, even cruel, but if it’s soft – if it’s dispensed with kindness and care – perhaps oppression can feel light and gracious. Perhaps a softly oppressive atmosphere can actually be advantageous for my students. In Milton’s poem, sleep, a peaceful and refreshing experience, is described as coming with “oppression”, so maybe my many requirements and assignments – the academic oppression I administer to my students – could be meted out with as gentle a touch as sleep employs. I have to be the boss in my classroom, and that means requiring the students to do taxing and sometimes downright oppressive tasks, but if I present and manage the tasks in a benevolent manner, perhaps the students might actually find in them some of the refreshment they find in a good night’s rest.

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