1. GOALS OF TEACHING POETRY YEARS AGO
Once upon a time, the goals of teaching poetry in mother tongue curriculum included imparting morals and values, as well as enjoying poetry as a supreme artistic or aesthetic experience. Questions were often asked in the test papers regarding the morals that a poetic piece communicated to the students. Questions were also asked in the test papers about the poetic devices and other poetic subtleties that the poet employed, even as the students were asked to wade through the processes that would help them retrieve the meaning of the poems they learned. Students were encouraged to memorize the poems, and they were also asked to recite and reproduce the poems in memory.
2. SHIFT IN EMPHASIS AND CERTAIN CONSEQUENCES
In the last few decades, emphasis seems to have shifted to introducing poetry from a chronological plane. Students are introduced to poetic pieces that reflect the ancient stages of the literatures of their ethnic community. There is also a tendency to so organize the language curriculum so that it would be fair and judicious in its selections from various religious groups, even as a cultural orientation to the past glory is introduced. A variety of forms of literature is also introduced.
Most mother tongue textbooks in Indian languages at the middle, secondary, and higher secondary stages are usually divided into two major parts: poetry and prose. However, poems may be interspersed between prose pieces as well, although the teachers and schools may not follow this order of presentation.
All the features that are listed above are sought to be introduced within the textbook. This earnest desire results in some kind of "panchaamrita," an admixture of several themes and forms, that is neither sweet, nor healthy or interesting.
3. CONTRADICTIONS AND CIRCUMLOCUTORY ARGUMENTS
Meanwhile, the Education Ministers of various states, trying to be in the limelight, speak about the reforms that are needed in the language textbooks, and sometimes they may even go to the extent of arguing in favor of fully doing away with poetry and incorporating "functional" language. They would argue that introducing the Indian languages as the languages of administration, etc. was flawed and in a pathetic slow pace mainly because of the language textbooks that unduly focus on literature. Students focused on poetry, and thus lost opportunities to master the functional language needed for this day and age, they would argue. Another argument would also be given that in this fast changing world it is important for the students to master the modern forms of communication in their mother tongues, as if these students will get opportunities to use these forms of functional language in their work places.
Contradictions and circumlocutory arguments often mark the debate about the language curriculum.
4. THE DEMANDS OF CIVIL SOCIETY AND POETRY TEACHING
Since, for the sustenance and prosperity of a civil society, moral and ethical values are very important in every walk of life, including work in big and multinational corporations, scientific work, research, interpersonal communication, marital life, and even in politics, and since Indian literatures abound in moral postures, it is important to retain this element in our mother tongue teaching. Indian society is seeking material prosperity through school education, and all of us the parents are eager and worried about our children's material prosperity in the future. In this process we somehow for various reasons fail to strengthen those universal values that are written on the hearts of all humankind.
Righteousness, fairness, justice, love, respect shown to one another, and there are many other universally acknowledged values that need to be strengthened. It is not simply wafer-thin politeness expressed in the proper use of address and reference terms that is to be strengthened in our language teaching. Correctness of grammatical usage and lexical choice is only a step towards real appreciation and use of these values. Mastery of the forms of communication and forms of talk are not an end in them. Even aesthetic appreciation and relish of poetry, for me, is only a means to a greater end. Poems laden with higher thoughts embodying values written on the hearts of all men and women, irrespective of their religion, language, political persuasion, etc. are more important than those that have great information about our history.
I am not saying that linguistic gradation, development of functional skills, and all such insightful tools for the use of language are not important. What I am arguing for is some greater goal, which certainly includes and imparts moral and ethical values.