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

Maya Ronit Pindyck


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.



poetry, urban schools, education, Teaching Artist, nomad

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