April 22, 2024

Nancy Flanagan: The 18th of April…

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Do you remember the date? Do you remember how you remember it? Nancy Flanagan does, but she wonders if you could still learn it that way today. Reposted with permission

Does “the 18th of April” ring any bells for you?

Years ago, in a graduate seminar in education leadership (full of would-be superintendents working on PhDs at my well-respected university), our professor entered the room, struck a dramatic pose and said…

“On the 18th of April” (long pause, class attentive)

“In seventy-five” (long pause, dead silence)

“What?” (gray-haired Prof scans the room)

In a small voice, I say,

“Hardly a man is now alive
who remembers that famous day and year.”

(another pause, Professor smiling, nodding)
I clear my throat and say…

“It’s the one that begins ‘Listen my children…’”

(blank faces)

“and you shall hear…”

(still nada)

“of the midnight ride…”

(a couple of people are getting it now)


(muttered) “umm, Paul Revere?”

Prof points to me and says “Don’t answer!” Then he asks: “Who’s the poet?”

When nobody–not one of the 20-odd people in the room– could answer, or would even try, he lets me tell the class. Longfellow.

“When did you learn that?” he asks.
Fifth grade. And I only know an abridged version. But still.

I learned “O Captain, My Captain” (speaking of anniversaries) in 8th grade.

And the prologue to “Romeo and Juliet” in high school. Still with me, along with memorized King James scripture, lots of Cummings, Dickinson and Frost and an embarrassingly large cache of song lyrics.

Why aren’t we using poetry to teach history?

Well, two roads diverged in a yellow wood…

And we chose easily measured standardized test questions.

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