Walt Whitman on Innovation and Education


walt-whitman--matthew-brady-lIn June of 1855, Walt Whitman set the type for the first printing of his Leaves of Grass. To mark the 159th anniversary of that event, we’ve selected some inspiring lines from the canonical poet who—unlike many of his peers—was a great champion of technology.

There was a child went forth every day
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became,
And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day,
Or for many years, or stretching cycles of years.

 Teacher, poet, champion of democracy, Whitman extols the boundless potential of the unfettered mind.

I fly like a bird…
I believe in those wing’d purposes.

 Whitman gives poetic expression to ideals of progress and inclusiveness that have long informed our ideals of education and our sense of who we are as a nation.

I launch all men and women forward with me into the unknown…
Outward … forever outward … toward something great …
O days of the future, I believe in you …

Recent innovations in technology promise to make opportunity more fully democratic, offering all students what had been available only to the privileged few. That’s one goal of our work at SAS.

This is the meal equally set …
I will not have a single person slighted or left away …
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand …
You shall not look through my eyes either, not take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself.

Innovations are also linking students with the great minds of the past, with each other, and with the resources necessary to shape a more enlightened future. In this passage Whitman celebrates the transatlantic cable, the Suez Canal, and the transcontinental railroad, but one can easily imagine these words being applied to the web—or to SAS Curriculum Pathways.

The earth to be spann’d, connected by network,
The oceans to be cross’d, the distant brought near,
The lands to be welded together … for purpose vast …

Technological innovations are also promoting the “varied carols” of diversity—in the artist and the mathematician, the musician and the architect, the software developer and the historian, the teacher and the chemist.

Opportunity, creativity, cooperation, innovation—all are crucial if students are to meet the unforeseeable challenges in the years to come.

“There was a child went forth” … and in time that child becomes an adult … who also goes forth … on ever more daring and wondrous journeys of the mind:

O we can wait no longer.
Joyous we launch out on trackless seas.
Have we not stood here long enough?
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go …

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy…
O farther, farther, farther sail!

If these lines inspire you, why not create a multimedia presentation that introduces you and Whitman? Our lesson will guide you step-by-step through the process.

To learn more about Whitman and some of the poems quoted here, see our lesson Meet Walt Whitman and Me (QL# 343). The lesson also provides a link to an image gallery so you can get a look at the great gray poet.

About Author

Tim McBride

Supervisor, Educational Multimedia Writing

Tim McBride has degrees from Rochester Institute of Technology and NC State University, where he taught English for several years. His first book of poetry, The Manageable Cold, was published recently by TriQuarterly Press at Northwestern University. He works as a writer and an editor on Curriculum Pathways. He lives in Cary, NC, with an American pit bull terrier named Charlie McCarthy and a Catahoula hog dog named Junk.

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