Mark Strand died this past Saturday. If you don't know why I'm writing about that, scroll down and look at the bottom right corner of the blog's template. You'll see his poem that serves as the inspiration for the name of this blog. Of only slightly larger claims to fame were his being named U.S. Poet Laureate in 1990 and winning the Pulitzer in 1999.
I've loved the poem "Keeping Things Whole" since the first time I read it, which was in the early 1980s when I stumbled across it in a collection of modern American verse. It has stuck with me, although I'm not sure I truly understand it except in that loose deconstructionist way which allows one to bring whatever meaning one wants to a work. However, my reasons for naming the blog after the poem seem consistent with other themes in his work. His death prompts me to write this post, which I've thought about doing many times in response to the question some have asked: Why did you name the blog To Keep Things Whole?
The most basic and general (and certainly most true) is, as any regular reader knows, an affirmation of my belief in holistic education. Yes, I value the life of the mind; some would say I spent way too much time in my own head. Yet I assert that we must develop all parts of ourselves and our students. If we don't, we cede something essentially human about ourselves. We are not, to paraphrase Sir Ken Robinson, simply brains whose bodies are solely a means of transport. Along with the physical, we have all the facets of the psyche (however one wishes to identify them).
As an educator, I've always striven to pull together pieces that become increasingly fragmented as students proceed through school. We separate more and more, when we should be connecting more broadly and more deeply. The overwhelming majority of the world are not academic specialists and have no intent of becoming such, but we organize schools that way. I think we assume, perhaps with interjections of hope, that students will coalesce all their disparate experiences into a coherent understanding of something. Just what that something is, I'm often unclear. So now, as a school leader, I try to keep things whole by helping a group of strong, smart, talented, independent people come together under a vision. I have to go where necessary, and use all sorts of ways, to move us in that direction.
And, as the world changes and we contemplate our students' futures--and how schools must both maintain and evolve--we "all have reasons for moving." The process should be continuous, never-ending. All Strand's poems echo this notion. In his obituary, The New York Times calls him "hauntingly meditative" as he contemplates the expansive nature of the self and its relationship with the larger world. The poem thus becomes a metaphor for what we should want our students to learn, perhaps above all else: that learning must never cease, lest we cease to be wholly human.