Is there Poetry in our values? And, is it possible to “teach” character?

Sometimes poetry forms deep memories — lullabies, hymns, lyrics from pop music, prayers, poems someone recited to us.
    The question of poetry’s potential has popped into the news, again. Here’s the background: Teenagers broke into the Homer Noble Farm in Ripton, Vermont, to throw a beer party. They vandalized the place, causing thousands of dollars of damage. The farm was a historic site, used for many years by the poet Robert Frost.
    They got caught. But they didn’t get jail time or community service. Instead, many opted for a novel penance — taking a class on the poetry of Robert Frost, taught by a Middlebury College professor, Jan Parini, author of a biography of Frost. The court thought that Frost’s poetry —some of it about the farm they had trashed and its environs — held the potential to reshape their values.
    In fact, this story is part of a larger movement. Using poetry to teach values is a variation of the “character education” movement.

    This raises lots of questions:
    What do you think about the idea that values can be taught? Is it possible to change values through character education? What’s your experience, either as someone who has attended a program of character education — or as a teacher or leader of such a program?
     We’re interested in the underlying forces that shape our values. So, another way to respond today is this: Tell us about poetry that shaped your character, if you’ve had that experience. Or perhaps poetry was a negative influence in your life?

Care to learn more about this news story? Here’s the National Public Radio version of this news story. (If you care to listen, click on the link and you’ll jump to an NPR page where you can listen to the entire 4-minute report.)

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