• David Youngblood

Delight in Disorder

Delight in Disorder

-- Robert Herrick

A sweet disorder in the dress

Kindles in clothes a wantonness;

A lawn about the shoulders thrown

Into a fine distraction;

An erring lace, which here and there

Enthrals the crimson stomacher;

A cuff neglectful, and thereby

Ribands to flow confusedly;

A winning wave, deserving note,

In the tempestuous petticoat;

A careless shoe-string, in whose tie

I see a wild civility:

Do more bewitch me, than when art

Is too precise in every part.


Until and unless we begin to pay attention to the messiness of the craft and art of teaching, we will forever chase frustration. If our quest is based on chasing efficiency and the perfect test score instead of beauty and the necessity of the failure opportunity, those we serve, the students and our communities, will continue to struggle, and continue to persist in an adversarial attitude.


Turning to Robert Herrick’s “Delight in Disorder,” it occurs to me that by extending his metaphor about slight imperfections in clothing and dress, Herrick’s poem connects to an informed view of the current educational climate. We seek perfection within our standardization, our curriculums and our schools and among our teachers--an efficiency that is unrealistic and ultimately damaging to our communities.


Teaching has never been about efficiency. How could it be given the diversity that makes up a department and school much less a classroom. Seeking a homogeneous result is, ultimately, a doomed and unattractive pursuit, a pursuit we can take little joy in. The imperfections-- our personal flaws and faults as well as those of our students are where the energy and beauty of learning is found. I’ve come to appreciate and love the quirks and variations of my students and their responses to my teaching. And, I hope, they appreciate the ones they see in me. This is what makes teaching an artistic pursuit: we want to achieve a great result but that can only be realized as we set it against the messiness of the process and the messiness of ourselves.


As 17th-Century poet Robert Herrick suggests, “when art is too precise in every part” it loses its attractiveness and charm, its power to “bewitch.” Perhaps that is what the latest trendy word in educational leadership circles “engagement” is supposed to be about. To be faulted is the connecting virtue we should seek in our teaching and should realize and accept among our students. For it is in our faults and theirs as well that we can discover common ground and share with one another the experience and beauty that is the messiness of learning.

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