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Volume 50, Issue 1
  • ISSN: 0034-527X
  • E-ISSN: 1943-2348


This essay examines high school poetry instruction in the 1920s and 1930s in light of the influence of Hughes Mearns, a teacher who wrote about and lectured on his experiences in teaching what he coined “creative writing” and who played a major role in reconceiving how teachers taught students to read and write poetry. Rather than focusing on memorization and recitation, Hughes enacted an experiential and “emotional” method of teaching students poetry. This student-centered approach reflected major thoughts in pedagogical progressivism of the period at the same time that it conflicted with the education tracking and standardization that also took shape under the name of progressivism. The innovative work of Mearns and teachers who embraced his philosophies is especially important to revisit given the analogies to our own period,where spoken-word programs, for example, exist alongside school standardization measures that often devalue poetry. Understanding the arguments Mearns and other teachers made for the unique value of poetry, as well as some of the shortcomings in their thought, can help educators to better articulate the need for K–12 poetry instruction now.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
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