Poem #43: “The Paperclip Experiment”

I’ve written a few more poems over the past few days, and I just finished revising this one. It seems appropriate to post it, considering that the Fall semester is entering finals week….

The Paperclip Experiment*


A pristine
strip of steel
wire, untouched by
human hands, coiled
into redundant patterns
by robotic arms repeating
the same motion over and over
and over again without
growing tired. They
are all the same.


A box
of paperclips
to a child—followed
by a simple question: “How
many uses can you think of for
a paperclip?” Laughter. Excitement.
Imagination springs to life as they begin
exploring the possibilities and find
hundreds of answers. The
researchers proclaim
98% of them are

Middle School

It is a
study, and the
researchers return
to test the children again.
This time, half the students
have forgotten how to use
a paperclip, half have
left their genius


The research ends
with the dismal realization
that most subjects have become
paperclips, molded by the robotic
arms of education into the same dull,
repetitive patterns, fungible units
that have little use for

*In the YouTube video “Ken Robinson Paperclip” <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzBa-frc2JA&gt; (accessed 12/8, 2016), Ken Robinson summarizes the study on divergent thinking reported in Land and Jarmin’s Breakpoint & Beyond: Mastering the Future Today. As a philosophy professor, I have encountered many students who have misplaced their ability to “think outside the box,” and I do my best to pop the lids off those boxes to help students rediscover the possibilities. Perhaps some of them will find a use for a paperclip that will change the world.

© 2016, all rights reserved.


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