Unguessed Gestures in Effective Institutions: Poetry's Threats to Urban Schooling


  • Maya Ronit Pindyck Teachers College, Columbia University


poetry, urban schools, education, Teaching Artist, nomad


Through an exploration of the perspectives of Teaching Artists who teach poetry in New York City public schools, this paper considers the curricular implications of Giorgio Agamben’s (2000) notion of gesture as an undirected, unproductive movement and builds a connected theory of poetry as antithetical—even threatening—to schools as progress-driven institutions of learning. I treat Teaching Artist perceptions as nomadic lenses through which to critically see and aesthetically re-sense urban schools. By interweaving poetic interpretations of interviews conducted with nine Teaching Artists and my own teaching memories, both as an English teacher at a Title 1 high school and as a Teaching Artist at various K-12 schools throughout NYC, I wrestle with the tensions between poetry and schooling in relation to dominant constructions and felt senses of “poet” and “teacher” in U.S. urban schools. I theorize the powers of art/poetry as a gesture (unforeseeable and necessarily impractical) resisting the notion of progress so familiar to educational discourses and practices: a linear movement and targeted effort towards “success” most intensely projected onto minority bodies.


Author Biography

Maya Ronit Pindyck, Teachers College, Columbia University

Maya Pindyck is a doctoral candidate at Teachers College, Columbia University. She is the author of a collection of poems, Friend Among Stones (New Rivers Press) and a poetry chapbook, Locket, Master (Poetry Society of America). A former high school English teacher, she currently teaches writing through Teachers & Writers Collaborative and Sponsors for Educational Opportunity.