A Vygotskian Exploration of Poetic Empowerment and Classroom Activism 

A Tentative Unbound Project Proposal 

A Vygotskian Exploration of Poetic Empowerment and Classroom Activism

            For my unbound project, I plan to research and discuss the relationships inherent between developmental theory, college composition pedagogy, poetry, and writing for social change. Using a critical lens, I will examine the ways in which the study and creation of activist poetry can be (and has been) utilized within the modern college composition classroom to increase writing ability, assist in the development of personal voice, encourage community involvement, and enhance critical thinking skills. I will base my discussion on Russian developmental theorist L. S. Vygotsky’s concept of personally meaningful, purpose-driven writing instruction, and detail the ways in which activist poetry can be inserted into the curriculum to create a link between social involvement and personally expressive composition. I will present a foundation for my argument by incorporating information on the historical usage of activist poetry throughout the years – discussing its origins in the 1400s as the politically subversive yet tabloidesque broadside ballad and following its evolution into the modern era of freeform mythopoetics – as well as by providing a variety of sociopolitically pertinent poetic examples.

In addition to L.S. Vygotsky, I plan to draw on the work and writings of a variety of authors, poets, educators, developmental theorists, and literary critics in order to support the argument for the inclusion of activist poetry in the modern Vygotskian composition classroom. Gary Snyder’s mythopoetics, along with the concept of theopoetics as discussed by community activist Matt Guynn, will figure into the discussion and exploration of contemporary activist poetry. The work and writing of Frances Payne Adler, Director of the Creative Writing and Social Action Program at CSU Monterey Bay, will be incorporated into the paper, and writer Julia Alvarez’s journal articles on the relationship between the arts and activism will be touched upon. M. M. Bakhtin’s theories of heteroglossia, double-voicedness, and ideological becoming will be explored, along with several examples from the writings of Paulo Freire. In addition, I will also utilize a number of short narratives and anecdotes provided by educators who have utilized poetry for social change within the classroom.

The connections between activism, poetry, and Vygotskian pedagogy are only just beginning to be recognized by participants in the academic conversation, and as a result there is still very little literature and awareness about the topic. I hope to change that reality, and strongly believe that this topic, which stresses the correlation between creative writing, critical thinking, community involvement, sociopolitical awareness, composition pedagogy, and the study of literature, will be of interest to both educators and students at Humboldt State University.