They Don’t Get It

Today, we went over two speeches in my public speaking class.  The first was Albert Speer’s closing statement in the Nuremberg Tribunal (the full text of which I can’t find in one place on the internet, or I’d give you the link), and the second was Reagan’s Remarks at the Brandenburg Gate speech.

I was absolutely thrilled by how nicely these two speeches worked together.  Delivered some 41 years apart, both works discussed many of the same ideas and concepts surrounding technology, warfare, and the oppression of people under political regimes.  I was really excited about being able to use the two speeches together, and about comparing and contrasting the main points of the works while we analyzed the structure and mechanics of the speeches themselves.

My students, though?  Most of them said they just didn’t get it.

I sent the class an email this morning, and I’m REALLY hoping to get some thoughtful responses from them.  I would also really appreciate feedback from you, Dear Readers, upon whom I rely for a lot of perspective in my quest to become a better teacher.

Dear Class:

I’d like for you to give me some of the feedback that we almost started to talk about in class today.  Several of you made the comment that the speeches I’ve chosen for you to read haven’t really grabbed you; that you felt disconnected and apathetic about the material we’ve been working with; that you don’t “get it” or that you simply don’t care.  What I’m interested in knowing is this; if the material I’m coming up with isn’t ringing your bells, what would?  I need examples of speakers and speeches that you feel would better engage your attention and intellect; don’t just trash what I’ve brought in without offering me ideas on what you would consider to be better choices.  What academically valuable works would you choose to read instead of the examples I’ve offered?  In other words, don’t tell me that you’d rather watch Oscar acceptance speeches or ESPN commentary – give me something challenging and meaningful that would help you to understand the lessons of the class; and make sure it’s something that wouldn’t put my job in jeopardy if my boss decided to observe our class while we worked with your suggestions.

Honestly, I was really jazzed and excited about today’s speeches – I thought that the Speer and Reagan speeches dovetailed nicely with one another, and that we could use each one to better understand the other (in sort of a “bring out your dead!” kind of way).  I was disappointed to see that many of you didn’t get that and, in an effort to improve my own teaching, I would really appreciate your thoughtful feedback on this.



Filed under concerns, Learning, Questions, Teaching

12 responses to “They Don’t Get It

  1. If this is the same bunch that some of your more recent posts have been talking about, i wouldn’t expect much. You could give them Oscar acceptance speeches or ESPN commentary – hell, you could probably give them MTV Video Awards or Adult Video Awards acceptance speeches – and they still wouldn’t do anything.

    It sounds to me like you’ve got a bunch who just don’t care.

  2. Perhaps “seeing” a speech like Speer’s being delivered would move them a little. It always does for me. Reading sometimes does not have the same impact. Are there documentaries or reenactments that portray them?

  3. No, Falcon – this isn’t the hybrid class – these are the face-to-face kids. I get a lot more participation out of them than I do the other group – my Monday kids wouldn’t have even bothered to tell me that they just weren’t into the lessons; they’d have just sat there mute.
    Seester, I think I might show them a couple of speeches from movies, just to see if that helps. I TRIED to show them Reagan’s speech ( has audio AND video of a lot of speeches, and that’s one that we could have watched…if the damned internet connection at the school were fast enough. GRRR). I DO have a reenactment of the Speer speech on TNT’s version of Nuremberg – it’s not the whole speech, but it’s better than nothing…
    Their complaint, if I’m understanding it correctly, is not so much in the READING of the speeches as it is in the CONTENT of the speeches. They whined a bit that this is all “old news,” and that none of it really relates to them today (“those who don’t understand the past are condemned to repeat it”). They want more current events (though the piece I gave them from Michael O’Hanlon about the Iraqi troop surge wasn’t current or relevant enough, either).

  4. sphyrnatude

    They “don’t get it” because it doesn’t relate directly to them or their tiny little lives. Anything that happened more than 2 weeks ago is dead news. If it happened 10 seconds ago, and it was more than 15 miles away, expect no interest. Unless it involves a major pop star and a sex scandal…
    feh. I’ll stick to the elementary kids. They at least can get jazzed about legos.

  5. Denever

    I had the same immediate thought as Saintseester. Speeches are written to be delivered verbally, and a lot of the success of a speech depends on how well the speaker sells it to the audience.

    I’d urge you to have your students hear and see the speeches, even if they *say* it’s the content that’s the problem. Your students may find, as I have, that a really good speech, delivered well, can make them care about things they thought they didn’t give a damn about. (Conversely, the poor delivery of a well-written speech can really torque your tail, especially if the subject is something you care about.)

  6. I’ve only had them read one or two pieces to themselves; the rest are either viewed (or listened to) online or I read them aloud (I’m getting a LOT of good practice in that – I have to say that I’m pretty good by now).

    I’ve been thinking about this, quite literally, all day. I’m SO excited about the connections between the Speer and Reagan pieces that I’m almost certain I’m going to have to sit down and write a paper about it. There’s some valuable stuff to be mined there, and I’m pretty sure that I just scratched the proverbial surface this morning.

    So far, I’ve had one student respond to my email. I got this this afternoon:

    I have to say that I found both speeches to be moving and thought provoking. I feel that I walked away from class, not only with a better idea about speaking well, but with a better knowledge of history. I even went home and discussed the Reagan speech with my father (who was very impressed by your choice, by the way). Don’t question yourself. I think all of the speeches we have read or listened to have been helpful and more so, eye opening. Don’t dumb it down for the people who don’t even try to understand the messages.

    The dumbing down was something that I was worried about (and something that Kizz and I discussed this afternoon). I think that it’s possible to bring in other examples of public speaking that happen away from the political sphere – there’s a lot of good stuff in movies and sports and eulogies – and I’m going to see if I can’t move some of those into my curriculum for the summer. I’m going to stand by my assertion, though, that bringing in the things that nudge the students’ comfort zones is necessary and good. They may not like it now, but I’m betting that at least some of them will thank me for it later.

  7. Just for the record I want to say that I have from the beginning agreed that “bringing in the things that nudge the students’ comfort zones is necessary and good” but I think that a bridge is necessary to help them get to this, more intricate material.

  8. Leah

    Don’t forget, too, that you are dealing with people who have been raised in an age of political apathy. Even though my father is very politically motivated, I found myself as a college student to be a totally oblivious liberal. Even now, though I have discovered that I am much more conservative than I ever would have liked to admit, I still know very little about politics, and have a tough time actually trying to pay attention for more than 10 seconds to CNN or CSPAN. You’re right. If it’s not celebrity or sports related, you’re going to have a tough time engaging any member of Generation Y. I’m still trying to break free of my opinions without research, but it is tough work, even for an intellectual.

    Just my suggestion, three speeches that I’d love to see contrasted: Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day (Kenneth Branaugh’s version in the movie as well as the text), FDR’s Day of Infamy speech, and Bill Pullman’s speech from the movie Independence Day. You’re mixing entertainment elements with history, and all three very strongly evoke patriotism in a goose bump, blood chilling way (for me anyway). What do you think?

  9. THAT’S the kind of help I’m looking for, Leah! What GREAT speeches to put together – literature, history, and modern pop culture (though, you know, Independence Day was released almost 11 years ago – it’s so OLD!!!).

    I may try that out on Monday; I own Branaugh’s Henry V and can easily get my hands on Independence Day – I’m also pretty sure I can download an MP3 of FDR’s speech.

    What the hell – it’s worth a shot.

  10. Leah

    Google the Independence day one, I found the text of that as well. This way you have each version in text and at least audio, if not video. The video of Kenneth Brannaugh is absolutely gripping, and I think it is blatantly obvious that the director of Independence Day was trying to mimick that speech.

    I looked up the St. Crispin’s Speech on line, just to make sure I was spelling it right, and re-read that. Got goosebumps just reading it. That should count for something, although I was one of those weirdos who had zero trouble reading Shakespeare from the very beginning, wondering why my classmates couldn’t understand it.

  11. Denever

    Oh, please show them the Olivier version! Olivier’s rhythm and – I don’t know, intonation or something – are so much more rousing than Branagh’s. (Frankly, watching Branagh right after Olivier makes me want to dope-slap Ken’s Henry and tell him to wake up.)

    Plus, there’s the nice historical resonance of Olivier’s Henry V having been produced during WWII to boost British morale.

  12. Pingback: A Case for Gen. Eds. « A Teacher’s Education

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