What Fifty Said by Robert Frost

When I was young my teachers were the old.
I gave up fire for form till I was cold.
I suffered like a metal being cast.
I went to school to age to learn the past.

Now when I am old my teachers are the young.
What can’t be molded must be cracked and sprung.
I strain at lessons fit to start a suture.
I got to school to youth to learn the future.
Robert Frost

Ideally, a human being is a lifelong student, and everyone and everything in nature is his teacher. Infact, according to the eastern tradition, nature is the best of teachers. It lets oneself be. There is a story narrated in one of the Upanishads of the Vedas, that a student, after serving the guru for quite some time, thought himself to be perfect for initiation. But the teacher thought otherwise, so he sent the disciple to the jungle to graze the cows. At first, this seems to be cruel and unkind on the part of the teacher. But, on a closer look, we find that the teacher has given the student enough time to be by himself and nature and unravel many of its mysteries, thus realizing his natural potential.

The modern day education, as talked about by Robert Frost in his poem ‘What Fifty Said’, is confined to the four walls of classroom totally cut off from nature. Students sit together and learn, not at their own pace, but at a pace set by the teacher. All must learn the same lessons, and come to same conclusions. Individuality of a student is killed in the process.

‘I gave up fire for form till I was cold’

This kind of education system was designed for the industrial era to create obedient and disciplined workers to work in various factories and offices of the rich. They had set a mould- of a job the students must do after graduating. But, it was very painful to the free nature of an innocent child, just like being cast in a metal, as Frost says. Most people are never able to break free of this cast.

The ‘old’ in the first line of the second stanza refers to the age of the poet, as well as the old education system he has been educated in, which is a misfit in today’s world. Now, the teachers are young, and know the new methods. But, before something new is learned, the old must be unlearned. And, it is a painful process of breaking and a making.

‘What can’t be molded must be cracked and sprung’

(Does this line refer to a new kind of mould replacing the old one; but nonetheless, still a mould?)

The main emphasis in this stanza is on the fact that now we are looking towards future, and future in itself embeds hope in it.

But, the question is, has the future of education come yet? We still have those old classrooms, even though a sophisticated projector has replaced the black board. We still need students to cram their lessons, at least at the lower grades, and pour out the same way. What Frost was envisioning in this poem was a lifelong process of learning and development. Now we need to make our students learn to think; and to question- for questioning is the new knowledge.

… Sahar Raman Deep

 

 

 

 

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