Saturday, January 31, 2015

The History Teacher

One of the contemporary poems that we did not go over in class, but that I really enjoyed is "The History Teacher" by Billy Collins. In this poem, the speaker describes a situation in which a history teacher attempts to protect his students from tragic events in history and wants to preserve their innocence. Instead of displaying the gruesome details of the events, he sugar coats each one into a less intimidating version of the story. Even though he means no harm, by doing this he accidentally damages them by not informing them of the true events that make up the world in which we live in. History revolves around the concept of action and reaction, a vital study in order to further understand the way the world works and to prepare ourselves for life's more unexpected events. By not learning about consequence and punishment of actions, the students are unprepared for life outside of the classroom and therefore engage in aggressive and cruel behaviors, "to torment the weak/ and the smart mussing up their hair and breaking their glasses." The outside people are described as "weak" or "smart," demonstrating how a child is either smart and educated in history, or is the alternative, weak and uninformed.

The diction in the story is not complex, but is rather simple and casual, telling the story how it is, the way the speaker thinks all stories should be told. The tone of the story is somewhat accusatory and views the teacher in a negative light. The lack of a rhyme scheme and randomness of the structure of the poem, could be looked at as the way the author views life itself, random and without an order that just sounds nice. By simply describing teacher, Collins seems to be sending a larger message about the education of children, and even further about life in general. Learning about the problems that the world has to deal with is part of life. It is part of growing up. Sparing the gruesome details of life fails to teach them how to work together and act in the modern day world.

The end of the poem tells of the infamous teacher walking home and innocently "wondering if they would believe that soldiers/ in the Boer War told long, rambling stories/ designed the make the enemy nod off,"showing how he is either oblivious to what he is really doing, or too "weak" to showcase and educate on the cold, hard truth.


  1. This was probably my favorite poem. I liked the irony in how he was trying to protect the children's innocence, but they were already mean to begin with! I also enjoyed how the kids would bully the smart, but they weren't smart because were being misinformed.

  2. I agree with you and Evan. It is interesting how he used irony to exaggerate a point.