Teaching Students About Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman, one of America’s most celebrated poets, earned the nickname “the Bard” for his innovative and influential style of writing. As an insightful and humanistic poet, his work transcends time and remains relevant to this day. Teaching students about Walt Whitman provides a valuable opportunity for educators to engage with historical and cultural contexts while promoting a love of literature.
Early Life and Influences
Born on May 31, 1819, in Long Island, New York, Walt Whitman grew up in a large family that faced financial hardships. His early life experiences shaped his worldview as he encountered the stark realities of urban poverty. He began working at a young age as an apprentice at a printing press to support his family before turning to teaching, which further developed his passion for education.
Introducing Whitman’s works to students allows them to explore these formative experiences and their impact on his literary voice. By looking into his background, students gain an understanding of how personal experiences can shape an individual’s artistic expressions.
“Leaves of Grass”: A Seminal Work
Whitman’s groundbreaking poetry collection “Leaves of Grass” remains one of his most celebrated works. This expansive anthology features various themes such as sexuality, democracy, spirituality, and American identity. It thrust Whitman into the literary limelight as it challenged Victorian-era norms.
Integrating “Leaves of Grass” into educators’ classes can spark discussions around these themes while reinforcing literary analysis skills and critical thinking. Studying Whitman’s poetic structure—free verse—allows students to examine the role form can play in expressing emotions and ideas.
Whitman’s poetry was revolutionary for its frank depictions of sexuality, which shocked contemporary society at the time. Consequently, “Leaves of Grass” was banned by libraries, criticized, and censored. However, this controversy led to its widespread recognition and lasting influence on American literature. By studying Whitman’s works, students can explore the role of art in challenging societal norms.
Teaching about Walt Whitman’s life and poetry provides ample opportunities for interdisciplinary connections. For instance, students can delve into the historical context in which he wrote by studying the American Civil War and analyzing “Drum-Taps,” a collection of Civil War-themed poems by Whitman. Furthermore, analyzing his views on democracy helps students form connections with political science and American history.