Daily Archives: August 17, 2007

Mid Term

We just finished week 6 of a 12 week term at TCC, and my public speaking students got the take-home portion of their test yesterday. I thought it would be far nicer of me to give it to them over the weekend than it would have been to give it to them on Tuesday and expect it back on Thursday. I’m betting, though, that there will STILL be students who won’t do it.

I haven’t changed my mid-term in the public speaking class yet – I’ve used the same speech and the same questions since I started teaching the course. It’s a good exam, though, and it gives the students an opportunity to demonstrate that they can actually DO the things we’ve studied in class thus far. In the past, I’ve gotten some really stunningly well-considered answers, and those alone tell me that the work I’m asking the students to do is challenging, yet still attainable.

The students are given a copy of the text of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech and are given a series of five essay questions which ask them to analyze and investigate the structure and to consider and discuss the speech’s importance.

Most of the students have at least a passing understanding of this moment in history; they can tell me who the man was and what he did, and almost all of them respond with the line “I have a dream” when asked about what speech MLK is most remembered for, but they can’t really say with any kind of certainty anything more than that. They don’t know about the bad check metaphor, nor do they they understand the subtle implication that MLK made that, if change doesn’t come soon in the way he’s asking for it, change may come in ways he can’t control. They’ve never actually read or heard the whole speech, so they don’t have any appreciation for the gorgeous transitions, the powerful use of antithesis, or the rousing and powerful conclusion.

Really? I think that every American should be familiar with this speech. It should be part of our common experience and vocabulary.

This speech is a beautiful piece of rhetoric. Most speeches don’t hold up as well as bits of reading but this one does. The construction is such that it flows just as easily and well through the eyes of a reader as it does through one’s hearing (so I’ve given the students the link to watch the speech, as well). It often makes me sad that these kids have never had the experience of this speech before; but, on the other hand, I’m usually excited to be the one to give them the opportunity to finally understand why this moment in time was so important that we’re still talking about it today.

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