"I sound my barbaric YAWP over the rooftops of the world." -- Wordsworth
If you have ever seen the movie "Dead Poets Society," then these scenes are familiar to you. If you are an English teacher, than these scenes give you goosebumps.
I am currently showing this film in my LA III class [my juniors].
When I was in high school, my teacher showed this to our class. He said that this movie was the main reason he wanted to be an English teacher. And I guess that is part of my story now too. I don't know that it is THE reason I became an English teacher, or A reason amongst many small reasons…but it is there, tucked away in my history.
If you haven't seen the film, then here is a brief synopsis: At an all boys school, Professor Keating [played by Robin Williams] shakes up the mold of the otherwise formal and conservative faculty. He challenges his students to think for themselves, something the administration thinks is unnecessary for his 17 year old students…dangerous even. Needless to say, some conflict arises when his students realize the power of their voices and choices, but they will forever be indebted to the man who has dared them to view things from a different perspective.
There are two scenes in particular that I, and my students, love. The first is pictured above. Professor Keating jumps up on his desk in the middle of class. His students look on in bewilderment. He looks around and then says, "I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way…" He then invites them to join him, and encourages them that "when you read, don't just consider what the author thinks; consider what YOU think."
During another scene, a particularly shy student is supposed to read in front of the class and share a poem that he wrote. When his turn comes, he says he didn't write a poem. However, Mr. Keating does not let him get by that easily. He writes the line I posted above on the board. He asks his student to let out a YAWP! He antagonizes him until, in frustration, the student shouts a "barbaric" YAWP. He then covers his eyes and tells him to share whatever comes to his mind…and a poem pours out of the student while the teacher watches in admiration.
After we watched these particular clips, I had a few students who asked if they could stand on my desk and YAWP.
I think that this will best describe what that moment in my classroom meant, however silly it sounds to others: After school that day, I sent my fellow English-teacher friend a text that said: "Watching Dead Poets in class. Had students YAWPING on my desk before class was over." She immediately texted back saying, "I'm envious of that moment you shared with your students."
What can I say, us English teachers are a weird bunch. But I think it just boils down to the fact that this movie touches something in us…it ignites a fire and in the crackling of its flames we hear a whisper saying, "Seize the day…inspire your students…YAWP from the rooftops!"
I'll leave you with this quote from Professor Keating:
We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, "O me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless... of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?" Answer. That you are here - that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?
What will your verse be?