This Weird Animal Was Spotted Entering a Classroom

In fact, this weird animal, the “poll-parrot” enters classrooms across America every day. Poll-parrot is the first described stage in Dorothy Sayer’s insightful essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning.” Written in 1947 but still relevant, it describes three distinct stages of coming-of-age: poll-parrot, pert, and poetic. The first is the stage children are generally at during primary school: eager, teacher-loving, guileless, and stimulated by imitation and repetition. The second is a transition I am very familiar with, teaching sixth grade: when a child becomes pert, they are going to out themselves by questioning authority vocally or seeming more withdrawn and difficult to reach. They are going through a natural stage that we all go through. Things need a “why” for pert students. They are stimulated by appropriate challenge, and won’t simply go along. They are wondering about many things bigger than themselves. The poetic stage is not very well correlated to high school, but, for most, the shift is made somewhere in there. Shifting from pert to poetic, a young man or woman becomes slightly more settled in their fight with the big questions. They feel they are making connections between major factors affecting life and that they have an answer or two, or at least feel confident in their conclusion that there aren’t any answers to be had. They are interested in love and thinking about their future. They are searching for deeper meaning. Their minds can handle more inquiry, and they crave it. I have found that a working definition of these three stages, so alive in my classroom, is really helpful. Skim Dorothy Sayer’s brilliant essay and tell me what you think.

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