I Made My Eight Grade English Teacher Cry
So the Optimist Club sponsored an Oratorical Contest and my English teacher in seventh or eight grade encouraged several students to enter. I forget how or why we entered the contest but I remember the evening several boys including myself gave our speeches in front of some judges and an audience of parents and teachers.
Before that night I had to write the speech. This was my first attempt at doing such a thing and I remember going to my dad for help at the beginning perhaps or after a rough draft. I just remember he suggested to me President John Kennedy's line, "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." I incorporated this line at the beginning of the speech and the title we were working with was "Respect for law, Cornerstone of Citizenship"
The rest of the speech came from my composition. At that time in the news and playing out in our schools was the subject of prayer in public schools. I remember one teacher who would read Bible stories to us in homeroom I think. She was probably doing something illegal because of recent Supreme Court Rulings but I think she asked us if anyone objected. I can't really remember the details but we were living in the Bible Belt in Arkansas and really it was kind of exciting having someone courageous enough to break the law because of her beliefs. And because I was a Christian at that time I did not have personal objections. I really did not think about others so much.
But I had this speech to right about "Respect For Law"! So I went into it with this subject, Prayer in Schools. Now this English Teacher I speak of was similar to the homeroom teacher. She probably read Bible stories to us also but I can't remember. But I knew she was a Christian. Now I had to defend the Supreme Court's decision to reject prayer and reading Bible stories in public schools. I did not know if reading Bible stories was declared illegal but my speech attempted to justify the Supreme Court decision which in effect became the law of the land. I had to explain in the middle of the Bible Belt how this made sense.
I made sense of this my self through the separation of Church and State. I went to Church Sunday and Wednesday Nights. I certainly did not want to hear about this stuff at school. I certainly knew of other Religions being a Baptist I knew there were Methodists and perhaps Catholics. I might not have known of the differences except through movies. But I clearly could understand why this did not need to be discussed in school.
But reasoning this out in a speech, especially a speech that might cause one to be convinced to think otherwise from one's previous position. Well, like I said I was giving this speech and when I saw my teacher she was shaken, tears perhaps in her eyes. I wish I could remember the exact lines from the speech. I remember at the time being amazed by her reaction. I wonder now about how it might have affected my Homeroom teacher if she could have seen that speech. Was I making her rethink her position? Was she amazed by a young person thinking in such a way?
The night of the contest against the other students was finally upon me. The competition was the cream of the crop, people I knew and respected. Somehow I won and received a nice engraved watch. But the most important thing to me was not the watch, but the tears of my English teacher. The fact that you can move someone with oratory.
In high school I had a new teacher who taught me that speech was also dangerous. If you are using speech to instigate our lower natures for instance. I pretty sure this teacher does not like or appreciate Trump. But this is our world for now but I hope it's going to change soon!