Poems on Learning (and Teaching)
Myron Frankman
myron.frankman@mcgill.ca
  •  Teaching Rewards, May 1, 1990
  •      (Written at the conclusion of grading after a very good year.)

  •  The Invitation:Methodological Reflections of a Facilitator, April 10, 1992
  •      (Written the day after my last class after an even better year.)

  •  Learner Hat, May 21, 1993
  •      (Written for and read to the closing session of the Centre for University Teaching and Learning 1st Annual Spring
          Workshop.)

  •  Prof/Prav/Improv - DA, April 1, 1994
  •      (Written for and read to the closing session of first offering of Int'l Devel.Studies Seminar as a tribute to a
           remarkable group of 20 final year undergraduates.)

  •  The Economics Posse, December 2, 1997
  •      (Written for and read to the closing session of 154-199A, First Year Seminar, 1997)


    Teaching Rewards
     
    Druids in the desert?  Perhaps?
    No incentives for good teaching?
    If it were the money we wanted,
    We'd be out selling real estate.
    Take heart:   It is not so bad; after all,
    Few are actually dismissed for teaching well.
     
    Yes, but the University doesn't value teaching.
    Who is the University anyway?
    Is it the paper shufflers, the planners,
    The budgetary officers, the performance evaluators?
    With all due respect, they are merely the window-dressing.
     
    No, they are not the University.
    The University is the learners:
    Those who are earnestly trying to decipher
    Cryptic pronouncements and
    Negotiate the mazes we set before them,
    Fully expecting to be ensnared by peculiar obstacles,
    Delighted when the path is clear.
     
    They are the University and the source of the real rewards.
    Those rewards may be infrequent --
    A phone call from a student of years ago --
    But they are as good as gold.
    To know one has made a difference
    Gives occasion to try even harder.
    There is no limit to the "merit increases"
    That come from knowing that one has opened a door,
    From sensing that a spark is lit,
    From seeing them grow like bamboo before your very eyes.
     
     
    Myron J. Frankman
    May 1, 1990


    The Invitation: Methodological Reflections of a Facilitator
     
    Yes, yes.  Come in.  This is the place.
    We've been waiting for you.
    It's safe, nobody here but learners.
     
    No, don't check your attributes at the door,
    They're essential to the success of our enterprise.
    Bring them all in, please.
    Your personality, your doubts, your curiosity,
    Your unique experiences and skill.
    Your "silly" questions?  Yes, them, too:
    They have a critical role to play,
    As there is often no answer to "How do we know that?"
    You can't recall when you last saw your imagination?
    Come in anyway, it should turn up shortly.
    What's that you left behind?  Your humor!
    But we especially need that.
     
    I can't be specific about the details,
    They will vary as circumstances require.
    As to eventual destination,
    I readily confess I haven't a clue.
    Yours will be different from mine.
    Only the general direction of the journey can be stated.
     
    Decided to stay, to take the risk, have you?
    Glad to have you with us.
    Roll up your sleeves,
    Meet our team -- no, change that to your team.
    Let the work and the fun commence.
     
    Myron J. Frankman
    April 10, 1992


    The Learner Hat
     
    I know you won't believe this,
    But it actually happened  . . . at McGill!
    Teachers speaking with each other about their craft.
    Teachers suspending judgement,
    Teachers willing to take risks, to consider change.
    In fact, teachers wearing  the hat of learners.
     
    The Learner Hat is a magical, transformative adornment.
    Would you believe, these erudite, authoritative, loquacious scholars
    Were actually listening?
    Yes, not merely pausing to catch their breath,
    But truly listening, hearing, reflecting.
    Meeting as equals and accepting critical judgments.
     
    How did such a thing happen?
    Thanks go to the gang at CUTL.
    Sure there were all the preparatives:
    Rounding up the unusual suspects,
    Worrying about one thousand logistical details:
    No intention of minimizing the weight of all that.
    But the secret was in the mix of structure and freedom.

    They set the tone, created the framework.
    They modelled the very things that we were asked to consider.
    They were there to facilitate, to guide,
    To help us learn and to learn with us.
    And learn we did.
    Outcomes, however preliminary, were there for all to see.
    The seeds have been planted.
    The next crop is likely to bring
    The first in a succession of curious, learning-friendly hybrids.
     
               Myron J. Frankman
               May 21, 1993
     


    Prof/Prav/Improv-DA
     
    In search of a metaphor.
    Words, images, actions do mesh,
    Do condition, do proceed  together.
    The chosen metaphor is the chosen path
    Other routes are foregone, even unperceived.
     
    Virtuoso musician as guiding model?
    The professor flawlessly executing a personal statement
    Of the Keynes bagatelles, the Heidegger polonaise,
    Or variations on themes of Hume and Bentham.
    Stunning, riveting, powerful, charged with emotion.
     
    A man in formal attire in the third row rises,
    Amidst the "Bravos" and "Encores,"
    His voice carries over the din.
    "Will this be covered on the exam?"
    The cacaphony of competing chants is instantaneously transformed
    To a single plaintive chorus, "Yes, will it?"
     
    Professor as concert master
    With well-marked score to be followed?
    Parts as truth to be replicated by the various players.
    Individual excellence matters to a point,
    But the limits must be respected
    Or banishment is assured.
    The wave of the baton is the final authority.
    A metronomic standard signals the single pace for all.
     
    Looking  instead for a little room to breathe?
    For a chance to give voice to your tentative flourishes?
    I know a place where skill and good will are the entry tickets.
    There is no sheet music; no strait-jacketed score to limit the session.
    What you need is in your head, your hands and your heart.
    You must, of course, bring your battered instrument:
    Geographone, econo-forte, politichord, bass anthro, whatever.
    All essential for the hottest jazz in town.
     
    Myron J. Frankman
    April 1, 1994


    The Economics Posse

    An introduction to life at McGill?
    I don't think so. Not this course.
    I think you have been deceived.
    Eager, but half-awake students at dawn in mid-summer
    Bent on quickly deciphering the mysteries of Mars
    To capture for themselves one of the limited spots?
    A professor scarcely heard from in class?
    Don't expect to encounter this conjunction again.
    A Birthday serenade for the Prof?
    Unheard of in my experience.
    Half the posse watching to keep the University Senate honest?
    Nope, haven't heard of that before either.

    We heard some amazing things this semester
    Voices were often raised, often simultaneously.
    The otherwise silent arbiter struggling valiantly to impose
    The spontaneity-stifling speakers' list.
    Hey, but the only the fists in evidence
    Were those proposed by Nobelist Friedman,
    In the spirit of freedom,
    Always stopping short of one's chin.

    We learned that it is OK to stop drinking milk.
    Why didn't someone tell us before?
    We were urged to respect the dignity of clones.
    We witnessed the most convincing counter-belief role-playing:
    Trevor hawking Helms-Burton; Noah on the virtues of public housing.
    Where was Mike Dixon's videocam on those memorable moments?

    Cara's comments on the civic virtue of paying taxes,
    Directed with feeling at Elijah's empty chair.
    We heard Broderbund pronounced right and wrong,
    We reflected at length on Warm Fuzzies.

    What did we/you actually learn? Hard to know.
    Indeed, that may not even be the right question.
    And there may be no appropriate measure
    To gauge intellects still under construction.
    Only time will tell.



    Myron J. Frankman
    December 2, 1997