EducationHabits of MindHumanities

Just What the Doctor Ordered

By November 12, 2016 2 Comments


For many, Wednesday was a day of triumph. For more, it was a day of defeat.

Such is the nature of competition. But for me as an educator and a parent, the 2016 election was a shameful spectacle from start to finish. An experienced female candidate for president, the first our nation has ever seen, was unable to garner enough support to overshadow her (and her husband’s) mistakes. An inexperienced male candidate for president, the 45th our nation has seen, was ushered into our highest office despite failing to demonstrate preparedness, empathy, or character to this point. To get elected, he used words that stoked the flames of fear, prejudice, and phobia in neighbors and friends. And in the aftermath, it is a struggle to file those words away or write them off. They stung, and the sting lingers.

At times like these, I find myself stalking my library. I’m looking for something to make me feel better, and based on two very heartening articles, I am not alone.

Time magazine’s Sarah Begley writes in “Read a Novel: It’s Just What the Doctor Ordered” that reading fiction can be on par with other calming strategies. There is even a new profession, bibliotherapy, that has cropped up in England to offer soothing suggestions to those suffering from existential anxiety. At the School of Life in London, writes Begley, a group of bibliotherapists conducts sessions with clients that end with individualized prescriptions of six to eight books. Ella Berthoud, one of the bibliotherapists, says and I agree (although there may not be any science behind the idea), “a truly great novel gets into your subconscious and actually can change your psyche from within.”

It isn’t just fiction that can soothe what ails us — poetry, too, can be a balm.  According to, “more poems have been shared in the past two days than in any other forty-eight-hour period in the past four years. People are turning to poems seeking language, powerful and precise, to cope with this moment in our country when divisiveness has become so painfully clear.” For example, “since the election on November 8, Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise” has been read on more than 35,000 times.”

My offering to readers — my prescription for the day — is by Emily Dickinson, my favorite poet. My students know that I think this is one of her best, #314, comparing Hope to a little bird that sings courageously in the storm, and can’t be silenced, and asks for nothing in return for its efforts. If a little bird can continue to sing in chilly and strange places, then so can we.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.


Jessica is a doctoral candidate, education consultant, writer and editor. She is the founder of bookclique, a collaborative of English teachers and students working to promote book culture, and a co-founder of Well-Schooled, the site for educator storytelling, dedicated to sharing first-person educator stories. All Rights Reserved - What I Learned Today in School.


  • Tim Waples says:

    I admire the precision and proportion of your paragraph describing the election. Each day I fear a little more deeply that context is slipping away from us, that those of us in the unhappy majority are losing faith in our ability to persevere, to acknowledge once again that we are working in this imperfect place towards more humanely enacting our country’s ideals, even in contradiction to our country’s actions. Even in the face of suffering, the faces of suffering, ahead.

    And I have a poem for you… the one I was regretting that I hadn’t signed up to read while I was enjoying Coffeehouse:

    Philip Whalen

    I can’t live in this world
    And I refuse to kill myself
    Or let you kill me

    The dill plant lives, the airplane
    My alarm clock, this ink
    I won’t go away

    I shall be myself—
    Free, a genius, an embarrassment
    Like the Indian, the buffalo

    Like Yellowstone National Park.

    And there’s always Allen Ginsberg: “America, I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.” That breathtaking line was penned in 1956 — sixty years ago! And now that line has six decades of courageous, hard-won progress for our citizens, for our country, embedded within it. Our fight’s not over, but we’re not going back.

    • says:

      When a friend gives you a poem gift — restorative, supportive, the best. See you in school…