Is The World Too Much With You?

Everyday I see students enslaved to their phones continually updating a status, sending or receiving texts, or playing games. I could spend time lecturing them about how their overdependence on technology is a problem and probably not benefiting them or I can teach poetry. Since I am paid to teach British literature and have to work to pay my cell phone, internet, and cable bill, I choose the later option. Because I’m a little sneaky, I have students read poems and come to their own conclusions about technology; it’s kind of like the moms who sneak vegetables into their kids cupcakes. Here’s your peek at a lesson in Room 128 (and a case for why the humanities are important to study):

“Let’s start the day with some slam poetry. Watch this:”

Students responded with –

“That’s dope.” This means the poem is good but still a phrase I prefer not to hear on a day when dogs are at the school for a random drug search.

“I’m adding this to my snapchat story.” I think this student missed the point.

“Can we go outside and play tag for five minutes?” I cannot make this stuff up, and s̶i̶n̶c̶e̶ ̶I̶ ̶w̶a̶s̶ ̶b̶e̶h̶i̶n̶d̶ ̶o̶n̶ ̶g̶r̶a̶d̶i̶n̶g̶  because I thought running and laughing and playing with friends while being unplugged from technology was a totally appropriate response to this poem, I let them play until I saw that one kid had climbed a pole in order to not get tagged. Game over.

Teacher: “Now let’s study Romanticism. No, we will not be reading Nicholas Sparks novels but the big R Romantics – like Wordsworth (insert student groans), Keats (insert more groans), and Lord Byron (students find this name interesting enough not to groan because with a name like Lord Byron it’s given you’re a romantic with a little r as well). Because just like we are struggling to separate ourselves from the world, this issue was also a problem in the 1800s when Wordsworth wrote:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
                “The World is too Much with Us” 1807

We will then discuss how the world is too much with us. What do we give our hearts to? What moves us? What doesn’t move us that should? What can we do about this?

And while my students may not get the full metaphorical meaning of this poem, they get what Wordsworth is saying, and the Romantics become relevant to their lives.

I do not have to list statistic after statistic about teens and their use of technology. Anyone living in today’s world knows that we must have ongoing conversations with our students about digital citizenship, screen time, and the importance of unplugging. The problem, however, lies not with technology but with our hearts.

What does your heart long for?

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