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Improper Understanding Due to Improper teaching: The root cause of why people do not read poetry

"In Indonesia, poetry reading interest fades as the citizens grew older. Different from children and teens who see some positive aspects of poetry, adults tend to dislike and even hate it due to due to their improper understanding caused by improper teaching."

Finishing discussing and roleplaying how to interview for collecting data in my Research Methodology class in the previous week, I asked the students to practice interviewing by surveying their family, relatives, and neighbors about an educational matter they are interested in. After a brief brainstorming, they finally agreed to survey what people think about poetry in any language. They also agreed to focus on: (1) Did the interviewee read poetry in the last year? If yes, how many, and where they get the poem from? (2) If the interviewee ever read poetry before last year, when did he/she do it? (3) Does the interviewee like poetry? Why?

The results of the interview (involving 182 participants) were recapitulated in the following week. The results are as follows.
  1. Grade-schoolers (6-12 years old) were the group with the highest poetry reading intensity. All of them read more than 5 poems during the last year. Since they learned some poems at school, all of them got poems from textbooks. They obtained it from the internet (76%) magazines and newspapers (60%). In terms of interest, a majority (72%) liked reading poetry. because it helped them build vocabulary, it was cool to read aloud and helped them develop pronunciation. The other 28% said they disliked poetry because it necessitated them to read many times to get the meaning.
  2. Teens (13-17 years old) were ranked second in terms of poetry reading intensity. All members of this group read more than 3 poems last year. In addition to textbooks, the sources from which they obtained poetry were the internet (68%) and magazines and newspapers (40%). However, 58% of them read poetry because it was one of the topics they studied. For them, similar to the young adults' group, poetry was boring and not fast-paced. Quite interestingly, among the 42% who read poetry based on self-interest said they read poems because of their beautiful expressions (They are cool; beautiful and effective expressions; and suit my needs to express my feelings). Some other said poetry enabled them to see something from different angles.
  3. Young adults (18-24 years old) had a much higher interest in poetry. More than half (58%) read poetry last year, among whom 32% read one poem and the other 68% read two or more poems. They got the poems from the internet (81%) and books and magazines (19%). The reason why many members of this group read poetry was that most of them were university students, and many of them had a course assignment related to poetry. A bit different from the older group, 16% of young adults like. The other 84% disliked poetry because it is boring, weird, difficult to understand, and not fast-paced—unlike YouTube videos or blog posts, poetry takes time to understand.
  4. Among the adults (25-40 years old}, almost one-fifth (16%) read poetry last year, among whom 62% read one poem and the other 38% read two or more poems. Most of them (48%) obtained the poems from books and magazines and the rests 56% from the internet. All young adults read poetry when they were at school, and 44% ever read poems in social gatherings, Christmas festivals, and at works. Quite similar to the senior adults, this group (91%) disliked poetry because it wastes time, boring, and not related to daily life.
  5. Among the senior adults (more than 40 years old), only 8% read poetry last year. Among those who read poetry, 74% read 1 poem, and the other 26% read two or more poems. Most participants (64%) obtained the poems from books and magazines and the rests 36% of the internet. The whole senior adults read poetry when they were at school, and 25% ever read poems in social gatherings, Christmas festivals, and at works (because they are teachers). The majority of this group (96%) disliked poetry because it is boring, hard to understand and has no practical use to daily life.
The findings above might not be highly comprehensive due to some reasons. First, the population of the survey consisted of the family, relatives, and neighbors of students attending a class in a particular college. Second, the data were collected by students who were practicing interviews as a data collection technique in a Research Methodology class. Despite these, the findings could be accepted as a case study results. Thus, although the findings could not be generalized to other populations, they depict some aspects of poetry reading in a specific population.

The findings revealed that the older the participants the lower their poetry reading intensity. All grade-schoolers and teens read poems last year, but only 58% of the young adults, 16% of the adults, and 8% of the senior adults did the same. The number of poems they read was also inversely proportional to the seniority of the participants. All grade-schoolers read more than 5 poems last year, all teens read more than three, young adults read one poem (32%) and two poems or more (68%); adults read one poem (62%) and read two or more poems (38%), while the senior adults read one poem (74%) and two or more poems (26%). It is obvious, however, the reason why younger participants read poems more intensively was that they were assigned to do so at school.

Regarding the sources of the poems they read, it seems that the younger the participants the more they rely on the internet. Around 76% of the grade-schoolers and 68% of the teens accessed the internet to get the poems, but only 56% of the adults and 36% of the senior adults got the poems from the internet. In other words, the older participants favored printed texts to get poetry.

The data shows that poetry reading interest faded as the participants grew older. Most (72%) of the grade-schoolers liked reading poetry. because it helped them build vocabulary, it was nice to read aloud and helped them develop pronunciation, and 42% of teens read poetry based on self-interest. Among the older group, only 16% of young adults, 9% of the adults, and 4% of the senior adults who liked reading poetry based on self-interest.

The younger participants (grade-schoolers and teens) could find various positive aspects of reading poetry (vocabulary building, cool to read aloud, increasing pronunciation, beautiful and effective expressions, suits the needs to express the feeling, and facilitates different viewpoints). Some teens who dislike poetry suggested that poetry is weird, difficult to understand, and not a fast-paced (different from using YouTube videos or blog posts, to get information). The older groups (adults and senior adults) suggested that poetry is boring, hard to understand and has no practical use in daily life.

The findings concerning poetry reading interest imply two important points. First, poetry teaching methods and activities applied at school have not yet enabled students to get the true nature of reading poetry. Therefore, although the majority of young people were formerly interested in poetry, they turned to dislike it when they grew older. In other words, the teaching practices failed to equip students with proper understanding and skills for reading poetry.  Second, most adults (as shown by their view that poetry is irrelevant or has no practical use in life) seemed to have an improper understanding of the advantages poetry reading can give. This, in addition to their propensity to be too obsessed with materialistic things, make them unaware of the importance of poetry reading to develop critical thinking, creativity, and resilience. This, too, could be related to the first point, i.e. they were not properly taught poetry when they were at school.

These two implications, however, require further studies to investigate their validity. What do you think, dear readers? 

Author : Parlindungan Pardede (


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