The poem, titled “The Lesson by English poet Roger McGough, was said to have as described a teacher slashing, strangling and shooting his students in school, all in graphic detail.
Students and parents were reported by media to have reacted in shock, as it might teach students the wrong lesson of condoning violence, and reminded them of school shooting in the United States.
When queried by media, principal of Dunearn Secondary School Boo Hian Kok said that the poem was selected for its “literary value”.
“Through analysing the poem, the students had the opportunity to appreciate how the overall comedic effect and humorous tone were created through the use of poetic techniques,” Said Mr Boo. “During literature lessons, our teachers do not avoid discussions on themes such as violence and tragedy. Instead, they guide students to make clear distinctions between real-world situations and make-believe fantasy.”
The Ministry of Education (MOE) told media that schools have the freedom to select their own literature texts for their students.
An MOE spokesperson also added that, “Through analysing literature texts critically, students cultivate a questioning mind, explore personal and social issues, and manage ambiguities and multiple perspectives.”
“The Lesson” has also been noted for its value at portraying irony, as a class that is dead cannot possibly learn any lessons from the teacher, who would be viewed as, ultimately, having failed in his task. Some have also noted the exaggerated theme of frustration reflective in how a teacher managed a rowdy class.
As a poem, “The Lesson” has also been noted for its creative play on words and use of dramatic humour.
Nevertheless, the poem also received similar responses in 2007 when it was used in lessons in the United Kingdom, when students were supposedly asked to illustrate what was depicted in the poem.
The poem is appended in full below. Viewer discretion advised.
Chaos ruled OK in the classroom
as bravely the teacher walked in
the nooligans ignored him
his voice was lost in the din
‘The theme for today is violence
and homework will be set
I’m going to teach you a lesson
one that you’ll never forget’
He picked on a boy who was shouting
and throttled him then and there
then garrotted the girl behind him
(the one with grotty hair)
Then sword in hand he hacked his way
between the chattering rows
‘First come, first severed’ he declared
‘fingers, feet or toes’
He threw the sword at a latecomer
it struck with deadly aim
then pulling out a shotgun
he continued with his game
The first blast cleared the backrow
(where those who skive hang out)
they collapsed like rubber dinghies
when the plug’s pulled out
‘Please may I leave the room sir? ‘
a trembling vandal enquired
‘Of course you may’ said teacher
put the gun to his temple and fired
The Head popped a head round the doorway
to see why a din was being made
then tossed in a grenade
And when the ammo was well spent
with blood on every chair
Silence shuffled forward
with its hands up in the air
The teacher surveyed the carnage
the dying and the dead
He waggled a finger severely
‘Now let that be a lesson’ he said