Second Chances

My speech class this year is awful. I say that knowing full well that "awful" is an upgrade from its previous status, "abhorrent." So it is improving, at least.

The main reason the class is bad is that somehow the room has been stocked with delinquents and minor criminals. No, literally. Half the class has been to alternative school or court school, and some of them are dying to go back; at least, that's what their endless sheaves of discipline referrals tell me.

To my great disappointment, the most heinous offenders--the ones who turn every class into a showboating opportunity and who would argue if I told them the ceiling is up and the floor is down--decided to start coming to class, instead of skipping. It's been ... interesting. Well. I say "interesting." What I mean is "it would be more fun to pull out my eyeball with a spork."

I think we've reached a compromise: one of them sleeps through class and I don't wake her up, and the other one talks about how useless the class is until I send him to the office. Whatever works.

Anyway, we're studying our chapter on faulty reasoning and propaganda right now, and I introduced the first lesson by saying that this is one of my favorite chapters.

"Why," demanded Precious Darling 1.

"Well," I answered, "it's where we start learning how to debate effectively. When you can pick apart another person's argument, when you can point out all the flaws in his reasoning, that's when you start to win, and I LIKE WINNING."

"Wait," said one of good kids. "So, you mean, you're going to teach us how to argue?"

"Eventually," I said. "But right now, you're just going to learn how to tell someone else exactly WHY his argument stinks."

Of course that woke everyone up, even Precious Darling 2, who has so far slept through a fire drill and two tests. Class participation has risen sharply in the past three days.

Today, we talked about common fallacies, like hasty generalization, false analogies, and begging the question. I gave several examples and then I handed out a story I'd adapted to readers theatre.

"Love Is a Fallacy" is a story written by Max Shulman, and it's a comedy about a guy (Dobie Gillis) who convinces his roommate Petey to swap his girlfriend Polly for Dobie's raccoon coat. Dobie then "educates" Polly by teaching her all about logical fallacies, and she turns around and uses that knowledge to turn down his request to go steady. I find the story hilarious, but none of my students ever have. Still, I pull it out every year because it does such a good job of illustrating what we're learning from the textbook.

When I announced, today, that we were going to read a play, guess whose hands were the first in the air: all five of my alternative school returnees. Well, I almost fell down, because they never volunteer for anything ... if you don't count their enthusiastic methods of volunteering to push my buttons and jangle my nerves.

I had a little conversation with myself inside my head. "Mei Flower," I said, "you have two choices here. You can get revenge on these Precious Darlings by refusing to let them have anything to do with this play, thereby ensuring that they will a) go back to sleep, or b) send themselves to the office. Or you can give them an opportunity to prove they have talents beyond what you've already seen, namely a) acting like dummies, and b) having an astonishing supply of pseudo-curse words to yell at inappropriate times. So what are you going to do, Grasshopper?"

(I like to pretend my life is a movie.)

I went with the second option, assigning four speaking parts to students whose previous class participation consisted of calling me a bitch and throwing books on the floor. I don't know. I must have accidentally swallowed a Xanax.

But it turns out, I totally made the right choice! Those hoodlums threw themselves into their roles and acted their little hearts out. Best of all, for the first time ever, the class really got into the play. They laughed, they sighed, they exclaimed in disbelief; it was like they were under some kind of spell, the Understand These Jokes Spell.

And THEN, when the play was over and I assigned the next project, the students--INCLUDING THE CHRONIC MISBEHAVORS--settled right down to the task and PUT SOME EFFORT INTO IT. Precious Darling 1 even finished his before class was over; when I suggested that his work could be more detailed, he took it back to his desk WITHOUT ARGUING and worked on it some more.

So what lesson can I learn from this experience?

Only teach fallacies and propaganda for the rest of the year

Suggest that all future lessons can be used to improve arguing/debating skills

Find endless supply of old Dobie Gillis scripts to read in class

Write plays for every chapter

Sometimes people--even the ones who make my blood boil in my guts--can validate their second chances.

Learn your lesson, Mei Flower. Learn your lesson.

1 comment:

J said...

i LOVE this!


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