Learning to Sound One’s Barbaric Yawp!

Curated by Katherine Frank
February 13, 2011

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.

What's Inside