The Long Schoolroom: Philosophical Readings in W. B. Yeats's poem 'Among School Children'

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In the mid-1920s the poet W. B. Yeats was pleased to discover contemporary philosophers, Giovanni Gentile and A. N. Whitehead, whose metaphysical and educational philosophies seemed to coincide with his own commitments. Whitehead shares with Gentile a sense of reality as activity and an understanding of knowledge as constructed from abstractions that are open to evaluation and imaginative reconfiguration. Yeats was a Senator of the Irish Free State and took an interest in schooling. Soon after visiting a Montessori-inspired girls’ school in Waterford, he began his poem ‘Among School Children”. (The text of the poem is printed at the end of this paper.) I argue that an awareness of the philosophical ideas Yeats had recently encountered should encourage restless rather than fixed interpretations of the poem and that this sense of restlessness and imaginative reconfiguration reflects the approach to education the three writers, at that time, shared: that at best our modes of apprehension provide only glimpses of reality and therefore each child’s understanding and learning must be kept moving.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)355-369
Number of pages16
JournalBritish Journal of Educational Studies
Issue number3
Early online date8 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • W. B. Yeats
  • Giovanni Gentile
  • A. N. Whitehead
  • idealism
  • process philosophy
  • education
  • progressive schooling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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