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Learning to Sound One’s Barbaric Yawp!

Uploaded by katherinepfrank on 2010-12-29 08:20

In Section 52 of Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself," he writes:

The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains
Of my gab and my loitering.
I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

Whitman claims to be "untranslatable" in this moment of sounding his "barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world," and yet, he has struggled with connection with other individuals, nature, the universe, and himself throughout the poem. His barbaric yawp may be read as both an assertion of independence and an admission that as a poet he must connect in order to be identified and heard. Whitman's barbaric yawp is marked by tension as this poet comes to recognize himself, his position, and what it truly means for his identity when he takes a risk and makes his message public.

This collection considers the tension associated with helping students find their voices as communicators and make their messages public. In this context, tension should not be read as negative; rather, it points to a productive process of critical inquiry and the effort involved by both teachers and students as conditions are created for meaningful connections to be made and voices to be discovered and heard.

Five resources comprise this collection and range from presenting a national perspective on how to use digital literacies to help foster a process of critical inquiry towards the discovery of students' voices to a school-based perspective to three classroom-based perspectives. Paul Allison's resource series, "Authentic Conversations on Youth Voices," and especially Part II of this series, "What is 'Authentic Conversation,' " provides a national perspective on this process as he describes an ongoing conversation among National Writing Project teacher-colleagues across many years, states, and schools as they inquire into how best to engage students in a conversation and make the relevant connections necessary to help their voices to be heard.

The other four resources narrow the national conversation and provide a more focused look at how the emergence of voice may be fostered through school and individual classroom contexts. Linda Biondi's "Global Kids Online Leadership Network" describes a program involving twenty schools in high poverty areas in New York that focuses on leadership development, global issues, and civic engagement. The testimonials given by students in this resource attest to the power of critical inquiry and personal connection in order to foster voice. Dawn Reed's "Voice and Composition: Authenticity Through Digital Literacies," Amy Brosemer's "The Year-Long Projects," and Renee Webster's "Hearing Student Voices" provide a look into three classrooms, a high school speech class, a third grade class, and a first grade class, and the way that podcasting, filming, and digital voice recording help students to "see" and "hear" their voices in action and become better equipped to and interested in shaping these voices for conversation and consumption in the public sphere.

All of the resources in this collection use common language: conversation, collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking, real world learning, engagement, active learning, respect, and confidence. All of the resources describe a process of critical inquiry supported by digital literacies that work through tension and resistance towards student confidence and expression. All of the resources provide stories of patience, persistence, and pride on the part of both teachers and students.

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ANShubert's picture

I am fascinated by your introduction and matching resources.  I am inspired to use some of this content when I teach Whitman next year in my English 11 class.  I was wondering if you could share any standards (state, content, common core) that helped guide this work.  I can see a strong link with your resources and Common Core Writing Standard #6 and #8.  Also, I am interested in how it works in your classroom.  How do students react?  What student strengths and weaknesses did you discover in this approach? :0)  I look forward to sharing this in my building team and with the preparation program at our university partnered with our writing project site. 

gbaird3721's picture

I actually disagree with you just a tad on this. While I do agree that Whitman wanted to speak out and be heard and also wanted others to do the same. His reasons for doing so include a more sociological issue that most educators and critics are afraid to talk about due to a lack of maturity in many students. As a 43 year old teacher living in today's times, I'm not afraid to discuss sexual orientation and do believe that Walt Whitman was gay. His poems make this rather obvious to me, and I therefore believe that he was closeted due to his era. Homosexuality was certainly an unspoken thing in the 1800's; he would not have been a well respected poet had this information been known. Allen Ginsburg wrote openly about his sexual orientation due to it being more accepted during his lifetime.
Again, this is just an opinion regarding Whitman's motivations for writing, and he is 'untranslatable' due to the times in which he wrote. He intended to be that way, using the majority's ignorance in his favor and to their disadvantage. I believe he hoped to reach out to others like himself, hoping for some sort of community development if you will. His poetry, in my opinion, was absolutely ingenious. BTW, not all of his poems were about this subject matter. He was nowhere near as obsessed with it as Ginsburg. Although, his era may have precluded him from being so. But wasn't that part of my point?
I often teach students that there are two meanings behind a poem:  literal and figurative. Obviously, we will never know what was truly in the mind of someone who wrote over a century ago. But isn't trying to figure these things out actually what makes reading poetry fun?

katherinepfrank's picture
Collected by Katherine Frank
on Feb 13 2011

Resources in this collection

Youth Voices logo image Authentic Conversations on Youth Voices
Global Kids resource image Global Kids Online Leadership Network
Voice & Composition image Voice and Composition: Authenticity Through Digital Literacies
Hearing Student Voices image Hearing Student Voices
Brosemer resource image The Year-Long Projects