The Impotence of Taylor Mali

You may already know of Taylor Mali, if so, there's no need for an introduction, just scroll down to be reminded of two of his best known poems, starting with "The The Impotence of Proofreading".



If you're not familiar with Mali (pronounced marli) I'm delighted to be the first to introduce you to this poet and performer extraordinaire who left the classroom in 2000 after nine years teaching to become a full time poet. His poems, which cover a wide range of topics, have been published in two collections to date, The Last Time As We Are (2009) and What Learning Leaves (2002), and four audio collections: The Difference Between Left & Wrong (1995), Poems from the Like Free Zone (2000), Conviction (2003) and Icarus Airlines (2007). The text of some of his poems can be found here, but they are best enjoyed performed by Mali himself and, happily, you'll find a great collection of recordings on YouTube.

Taylor Mali is a vocal advocate of teachers and is well on track to meet his self-imposed target of inspiring1000 people to go into teaching through "poetry, persuasion, and perseverance". His poem, "What Teachers Make" is perhaps his strongest piece of advocacy on behalf of the teaching profession:


Do you have a favorite Taylor Mali poem?
Did listening to "What Teachers Make" change your view of the teaching profession?

I agree with you that Mali is a compelling performer and accomplished poet. However, I have huge problems with his campaign to encourage people to enter the teaching profession, because he withholds critical information:

1) That he, himself, is the scion of an extremely wealthy family, a serious trust fund baby, who has never had to actually live on a teacher's salary.

2) That his 9 years in the profession were spent in elite private schools, teaching children from families as privileged as his own.

I'd have far more time for him if he used his talent to tell the truth about the crisis of public education in the US, and the challenges faced by teachers and students who don't share his privileges. And if he used those privileges to challenge those in his personal circle - the wealthiest 1% of Americans - to change what Paul Krugman so eloquently terms "a society of the 1% for the 1% by the 1%"
# Posted By J Stor | 5/9/11 10:15 PM
J Stor raises a good point. Mali does focus on the positives of teaching, not the negatives; but the difference that a good teacher can make is the area that he is personally familiar with and where his strengths like. Playing devil's advocate for a moment, if he was to start talking publicly about teachers' relatively low pay, I suspect that similar numbers who criticize him for not tackling the pay issue more head on, might criticize him for lecturing on something he hasn't experienced personally, perhaps accusing him of being patronizing - so perhaps it's for the best that he stays on the topics where he's most eloquent and inspiring?

Regarding your final point, that he should use his private connections to challenge the actions and opinions of those in his personal circle who are in positions of influence - I agree - but, for all we know, he might well be doing that already, just not in the public eye.
# Posted By DavinaMW | 5/18/11 7:58 PM
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