Study Guide

An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum

by Stephen Spender

An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum Themes

Themes

Poverty

The theme of poverty is principal to the poem "An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum." Spender creates a crisp image of children in poverty through his descriptions of dire situations and mal-nourished students, revealing a sad, hidden segment of society that was prevalent throughout the world. He is not commenting directly on any particular nation in his poem; instead, he exposes the widespread neglect of children of all nationalities, races, and ethnicities. It is poverty that has caused the students in "An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum" to be "weighed-down," "paper-seeming," diseased, and "twisted." Spender believes this poverty is created through the oppressive power of capitalism.

This poem was written during the American Civil Rights movement, and although Spender was British, the injustice that occurred in the United States was a global issue that affected the entire world, especially close English-speaking allies like Britain. Spender was affected by the struggles for equality in the United States because of his staunch dedication to social and political reforms. Although this poem was written during this time of oppressive racial injustice in America, Spender does not directly focus on a select group of underprivileged children, based on race, religion, or creed. Instead, he hones the content of his poem and remarks about the social injustice imposed upon all children, making it much more difficult to ignore. When the spotlight is cast upon a select group of individuals, certain members of particular groups are able to shrug their shoulders or cast a doubtful eye at the authenticity of the group's plight. However, when the spotlight is cast upon children writ large, no one can turn a blind eye. Regardless of their upbringing, history, race, or ethnicity, children are innocent beings dependent on the helping hands of humanity. Without aid, children are effectively left to die, and adults who do not help are left with an undeniable sense of guilt and worthlessness. Spender cultivates these emotions in his poem and uses them to his advantage, delivering a powerful message about poverty, its effect on children, and the oppressive power of money.

Communism and Education

Karl Marx firmly states in The Communist Manifesto that education is "social, and determined by the social conditions under which you educate, by the intervention of societ1y, direct or indirect, by means of schools." Spender thoroughly supports this statement in "An...

(The entire section is 1034 words.)