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An elementary School Classroom in a slum

(Stephen spender)
Objectives:









To appreciate the poetic beauty
To interpret the poem
To identify the poetic devices.
Understanding the poem for comprehension.
To aware about the blight of slum dwellers.
Contents:Slum children living in Sub-human conditions
Slum children deluding elementary schools.
Poet’s own desire to improve their lot.
Methodology/Activities:ModelReading
SilentReading
Question Answer technique
Discussion on Slums.
Teaching Aids:


P.P.T Showing slum are a schools.
Handouts with question
An Elementary Classroom in a Slum by Stephen Spender
Background of the Poet:
Stephen Spender (1909-1995) was an English poet and essayist who took keen interest in
politics. He took keen interest in the Socialist school of thought which explains his stance
regarding the paradox of teaching elementary school children in a slum. His belief as strongly
recorded in the Poem, ‘An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum’ is that it is mere wish
fulfilment to think that you can teach children on an empty stomach! Stephen Spender
became disillusioned by his tryst with socialism and he wrote about this disillusionment in an
essay written by him in a book titled, ‘The God That failed’.

Values raised in the poem: Sensitivity to the underprivileged, equity, equality, awareness,
philanthropy, optimism, determination, change etc.

economics. the best example of Spender’s political voice resonating in a poem. Their world is far removed from the open. However. His inexperienced eyes are full of hope and he is dreaming about playing games in the open and of a reality different from his life in the slum. Stanza 2 The classroom walls have a faded. They are as unwanted as the rootless weeds.  Although Spender was British. These unfortunate beings have inherited only disease and bad luck from their parents. are stressed by the burden of their circumstances and malnourished.  Expresses his ideological positions on government. and education. His eyes have a scared. In other words. the poem names no nation or race and was a response to the global question concerning social injustice which was an essential issue in the American Civil Rights movement of the time. hungry look.  A commentary about race issues in American education and a Socialist proclamation against capitalism and social injustice in general.  The students in this classroom are underprivileged and malnourished. but the classroom in the slum offers little hope for change or progress. The paper-thin boy is too skinny. Their hair is unkempt and they have pale faces which clearly indicate their deprived and under-nourished condition. healthy environment. They are exhausted both physically as well as emotionally. as the tall girl. One of the diseased ones can’t even get up from the desk to recite his lesson.  The capitalistic government is supposed to supply equal opportunity for education. On the walls are displayed the donations given by people such as the bust of Shakespeare with the background of a clear sky .Background of the poem:  Written in 1964. enthusiastic. negligent appearance as they haven’t been painted for a long time. there is one child at the back of the class who is younger than the others and often goes unnoticed.  The poet’s tone changes from pensive to belligerent and frustrated to an appeal Explanation of the Poem: Stanza 1 The poet says that the condition of the children in a slum school is pathetic. These children. these children inhabit a world which is dreary and depressing.

Let them find their place in the sun. Their eyes can only view a narrow road which is enclosed by a dull sky. He wants all the barriers to be pulled down. The children must be given freedom to experience the wholesome bounties of natureview the green fields and run on ‘gold sand’. Let them breathe in fresh air. Stephen Spender highlights the plight of slum children by using vivid images and apt words to picture a classroom in a slum . This is because his words mislead the children. Apart from all this. Stanza 3 The pensive poet suddenly turns belligerent (aggressive) and feels that Shakespeare is ‘wicked’. The poet shows his outrage by suggesting that the maps on their walls should show huge slums instead of beautiful scenic graphics. barriers that keep away true education from them. It represents a dark and bleak future with no hope for improvement. the walls also have a map revealing the world. These emaciated children are so thin that it appears that they are ‘wearing’ skins. The spectacles they are wearing have glass which has been broken and mended. sun and love which is not only unreal for them but it has a corrupting influence on these children and instigates them to steal to try and escape their cramped holes. the high land jutting from the sea and is full of glorious words. He shows them a beautiful world of ships. Stanza 4 The poet appeals to the governor. The poet hopes the authorities would realize their moral responsibilities and free these children from their grave-like entrapments (catacomb – cave). The walls also have scenic pictures of Tyrolese Valley with its beautiful flowers presenting a world of heavenly splendour. The poet begs to let them read books and form their opinions. If there is political will. But the world the children view from the classroom’s windows is foggy and harsh. their foggy world would turn into endless night. inspector and visitor to do something to improve the condition of these children. Let them discover themselves and let them be creative so that their names can also enter the books of history. The poet suggests that these children are trapped in a hopeless situation and their reality is far removed from the literary world which glistens with the beauty of nature such as the rivers.at the time of sun-rise. this map showing the beautiful world outside can become their reality too. On this path. Their entire appearance reeks of their deprivation.

‘break the town’ and let the children run free on ‘gold sands’ and to. ‘A narrow street sealed in with a lead sky.’ and ‘catacombs’ lead to the poet’s belief that the only solution is to. Moreover. tired and hopeless that they don’t have the luxury of leisure to study works by Shakespeare. The metaphor of ‘Shakespeare’s Head. ‘Shakespeare is wicked. The children are so poor malnourished. ‘fog’. you are in fact teaching the students to . the map a bad example’ because their exclusiveness tempts ‘them to steal’. hopelessness. Poverty. hunger. What Spender means is that it is only after the policy makers have addressed the problem of poverty and its attendant problems like malnourishment and inherited diseases that you can hope to provide an education that is empowering in the true sense! Important metaphors used by Spender The poem. and the fact that they are cut of from the rest of the world since they are bound by their poverty is expressed in the words. ‘let their tongues run naked into books the white and green leaves’. ‘An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum’ contains a few very important metaphors that support the poet’s attitude towards the idea of teaching children who are impoverished. Spender very strongly believes that you cannot hope to provide education to children who are poor and hungry. and ‘foggy slum’ suggest that the very purpose of educating these children has been defeated.Poetic Devices: Like rootless weeds – simile Paper-seeming boy – metaphor Rat’s eyes – metaphor Like bottle bits… – simile Shut upon their lives like catacombs – simile Last four lines – visual imagery The theme of the poem The central theme of the poem deals with the paradox of teaching elementary school children in a slum. It is ironical that by teaching them about Shakespeare. The sense of hopelessness and the lack of a bright future symbolised by the words.’ represents the teaching of concepts and ideas that the students are not able to relate to because of their impoverished nature.

Poverty is a glaring problem in today’s world and it needs to be tackled before anything can be done to further the . but then what Spender seeks to express is the idea that policy makers should target the poverty of the children before attempting to provide them with education! The tone of the poem The tone of the poem is rather sombre and profound mainly because the poet is trying to express a rather serious problem that affects our society at large. The poet wants to deliberately shake the reader out of his sense of complacency so that he or she realizes that mere donations or high ideals of providing an education that is supposed to be empowering are useless as long as they don’t target the problem of poverty. the ‘narrow street sealed in with a lead sky’. ‘Catacombs’ a twisted maze from which there is no escape. not the ‘open ended map’! The Sun. The ‘Open ended map’ rather paradoxically is a metaphor for slavery or imprisonment because it shuts ‘upon their lives like catacombs’. The ‘green leaves’ are pages in the book of Nature. and ‘spectacles of steel with mended glass’ all add to the rather festering and palpable atmosphere of poverty and hopelessness. What they can’t hope to achieve in the normal course of time. and this is more so because you have taught these children that Shakespeare is good. ‘slag heap…skins peeped through by bones’ . they will try to achieve through unfair and illegal means.’ It is clear that the message that Spender wants to pass on to the reader is that the fruits of education can be enjoyed only by those who are free from the shackles of poverty. What they can relate to. ‘white and green leaves’. incidentally is a metaphor for freedom as opposed to the ‘fog’. but rather the world of poverty and misery that they can see through the windows of their classroom. The windows of the classroom are the true maps that they can relate to. the.steal. A hard hitting point. The children will therefore try to achieve the good things in life by hook or crook! The metaphor of Nature as a teacher appears in the last stanza and it is represented in the words. therefore is not what is shown in the map. Spender makes it clear that history can be written only by those ‘whose language is the sun. ‘gold sands’ and the books with. What Spender suggests is that you can’t hope to teach the impoverished children about the real world by showing them the map because then they are reminded about the world they live in and the hopelessness that shuts upon them like. and the world shown in the map is good. The descriptions of the foggy atmosphere.

the idea that the more advanced the society. The philosophy of the Poet Stephen Spender’s poem. The overall tone of sadness and gloom is paradoxical in nature as it highlights the irony of life in the twenty-first century in spite of all the technological advancement that is taking place. . ‘An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum’ very aptly encapsulates his philosophy of life which is based on the themes of social injustice and class inequalities. Eliot in his poem with the same name. The poet constantly highlights his belief in the paradox of poverty.S. the larger the gap between the poor and the rich. The image of the. What comes to mind is the image of society that has devolved into a the ‘Wasteland’ as described by T. His philosophy of life exposes the sham that exists in the society today.development and empowerment of the society. ‘slag heap… bottle bits on stones’ creates a rather overwhelming sense of hopelessness that can be linked to the dehumanisation of the society. and the socalled hollowness in the intentions of the humanitarians of the world who want to do good to the underprivileged by donating gifts which are in effect of no use. The gap between the rich and the poor is aptly brought out in this poem.