The Inoculation Effect

For once, I'm not talking about COVID-19 or anything to do with injections or vaccinations.

The Inoculation Effect is a sociological occurrence where an element is impressed upon someone to a point where that person wants nothing to do with the original element. It's a massive hurdle in American education systems, one our society keeps making worse.

How many of you were told to read a book when you were in school? How many of you were told to read a specific book when you were in school?

Either of those creates the inoculation against reading. Some of us rise above it, defeat it, and break the cycle. Some of us were subjected to Hee-Haw as a child and now want nothing to do with country music.

Aside from country music variety shows, I've been hit by the inoculation effect in another, much more interesting way.

When I was in Fifth Grade, everyone in the class had to memorize a poem about baseball. No, it was not "Casey At The Bat." I couldn't tell you what this poem was, only that I didn't care. It was a page in our Reading book, facing a picture of someone in a Mets uniform ready to swing at a pitch. I think the poem was five stanzas. All I know is that I did not care, I had no reason to care, and my assignment was to memorize this poem.

I was a good student in school. I didn't get in trouble for assignments a lot. The other kids took their shots at reciting this poem to the teacher. But I didn't care. I eventually got threatened with plenty of punishments when I was weeks, if not months behind on memorizing this poem.

I did not care. Nothing made me care.

The final confrontation about this poem came when I was called into the hall and another teacher was summoned as a witness. That was always the cue that the paddle was coming out. I didn't want to get paddled, but there was nothing I could do. I didn't care about this poem, I had no real incentive to memorize it.

There was some lecturing thrust upon me, questions about why I hadn't memorized the poem after so much time. By now, you know what I told the teacher. She could swat me with the paddle, but it wouldn't make me care about poetry, a poem, none of it.

I didn't get paddled for that.

However, because of that, I saw poetry as something people did in long ago eras when they wanted to sound pretty or needed to impress someone with their writing. I didn't see its worth as anything but old, fancy writing. An outdated system, at best.

I know that's not right. I know that it took many years of study and learning to see beyond that implicit lesson.

My teacher didn't care enough about me memorizing this poem to punish me for not doing it. Sure, I got 0 points on that assignment. I'd learned a dark lesson in its place.

If a teacher can't make the student care, the student will never learn.

So, that's the challenge, one I post to you, to myself, and to the world. How can we make others care about the written word?

I offer no direct answer.

I will note that April is National Poetry Month. And I'm trying.

No promises.

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