This past week or so, I've been teaching poems like Tennyson's "The Lady of Shalott" and E. B. Browning's "The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point," where the apparent lockstep regularity of the poem's form gives way once you start analyzing the meter. (Or, as I said, "the meter is banging against the frame of the rhyme scheme.") At times like this, I always find myself dreaming of that nice utopian day in which all of our students knew something about scansion--which, after all, not everyone teaches in our intro to lit analysis course. Wouldn't it be nice if you could just walk into the room and say, "Everyone, what did you think of all those anapests?" Ah, the joys of predictability, in which all students learn the same skills at the beginning of their academic careers!
Of course, the dream falls apart just as quickly. Our 200-level courses are enrolling more and more non-majors, and it's a bit much to expect physicists and sociologists to walk into the room prepared to recognize an iamb. More to the point, the ability to scan a poem is, as a professor of mine once said about cricket, "use it or lose it" knowledge. Even students who I know have been exposed to the basics don't necessarily remember them a year on, not unless they've taken other poetry-heavy courses (e.g., Shakespeare or Milton). It's rather like the fantasy/fallacy of freshman composition: you cannot "teach students to write" in a single semester; you can only give them the basic toolkit, and the spiffier tools must be acquired elsewhere. Nothing sticks unless it's consistently reinforced in the department and, sometimes, across the campus.