A gentle reminder ...

The goal of this blog initially was for Mr. Mc to show his students and friends what he doing while in Pennsylvania and DC in 2011. Now it's being used as a place for him, travelling colleagues and former students to discuss edumacation and history related "stuff" as well as ... well, anything which pops into his head. Mr. Mc would never knowingly embarrass either the school he loves or the family he is devoted to. By joining in the discussion, he expects the same of you.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Podium Point #5: " What happened last year?"

The last of the podium points is volume. How loud or how soft.
Both ends of the spectrum can be annoying. They yeller or the low talker. Above is a Seinfield clip which will lead the poofy shirt incident. All because of a lowtalker. The clip below is from a new favorite, Pitch Perfect. The movie is wrong on so many levels but I laughed out loud as often as I gasped at what my eyes couldn't unsee. The young women in these clips is pitch perfect, literalty in her portrayal as the quiet girl.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Podium Point #4: "...and I believed him because he was a basketball fan."

If you have been following my posts, you know I have been wrestling with the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I decided that the voices on both side of the gun control debate are too much to bear and have decided to go to on a news blackout of the topic. A friend challenged that decision saying that by waiting six month to discuss the issue, we may end up not discussing it at all. Fair enough. Instead of jumping into the debate, I've decided my contribution to the discussion is as a 'reminderer'. This isn't about politics. This isn't about the NRA or the anti-gun lobby. This is about 20 children and six teachers. In each of the next 26 post, we'll meet one. Today Charlotte Helen Bacon courtesy of the victim's hometown newspaper, The Newtown Bee.
now..back to the blog...
The fourth podium point is tone.

Tone indicates how the words sound. Upbeat or Happy. Sad or Downbeat. Hesitant or Unsure. Tone creates the emotional framework which helps the listener understand not only the content of your speech but what you mean.

Tone is a valuable tool in the speaker's toolbox. With out it...

With it, the listener know what you mean, even if it is in German:

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The problem with platitudes...

Note: this post has very little to do with oratory, education or history. I wrote something about Sandyhook the other day and this is a continuation of my thoughts. This post centers on my wrestling with where God was on December 14th.

I am putting together a post on the use of tone in oratory right now and stumbled upon these two clips. I said in a previous post that I was still wrestling with what happened less than a month ago in Connecticut. While everyone is bellowing at the the gun "lobby" or at the "liberal" media, I've tuned them out.

I have bigger fish to fry.

My beef has been with God.

Psalm 138:7. 2 Thessalonians 3:3. The whole of Psalm 23. Where was the God of protection at that elementary school? Where? Were those poor teachers left to their own devices?

Full disclosure: I have a degree in religion and so I know how to logically battle the "Where was God in this tragedy?" question. This isn't a philosophical battle for me. This is an emotional one and spiritual platitudes aren't the answer. I'm not denying the truth of a platitude, but sometimes an open wound doesn't need a seasoning of platitude sprinkled over it.

The only answer I have found to this, for me, is silence. Really, the silence is between me and other people. God and I are thick in conversation and our conversations aren't usually for public consumption. God is a gracious combatant in that he lets me rail at Him, bully him and, in anger, twist facts and realities to make my point. Once I'm done flailing and ranting and blaming Him for every problem since, well, since creation; I'm reminded that my lens is a limited one and that trusting God comes at a cost. I quoted a poem in the last post and am reminded of another line from that poem. "I fondly (fondly means foolish in Milton's era) ask. But Patience, to prevent that murmur, ..."

Here are the two videos that caused me to write this post. The first is one of the finest examples of how great writing and acting can converge to create a moment both painfully honest and painfully profound. It doesn't hurt that Martin Sheen (whatever you think of him politically) has the gravitas as a man of faith and actor to make this organic and spontaneous. The second is what happens after you rant at God.  I like that they make it clear this isn't a dream and Mrs. Landingham isn't 'God'. She is the voice in his mind after it has unraveled itself. I like that the voice acknowledges the tragedy of the past but, really, looks toward the future.

That look toward the future doesn't ignore the realities of the past. Events have consequences. But it reminds me: A tragedy is more of one when you become stuck in it. Please note I am not talking about the true victims of the shooting. Their world is irretrievably changed as the result and it will take longer than thirty days to work through the events at Sandy Hook. As a person of faith, I'm called to get off my whiny ass, stop the theological navel gazing and keep them in my prayers and my thoughts.

They continue to be in my prayers. I can't even begin to imagine that level of pain. My job is to remember and honor the victims. To remember them when my brain wants to move to the next tyranny of the urgent. To honor their sadness and the memories of those taken or injured by not letting anyone else's motive or political ambition take control of the event.

There will be more time for debate on gun control. I feel like we are dishonoring the victims by pouncing on the politics of the tragedy. I can't control a whole country's narrative, but I can say that I refuse to watch or read news reports about gun control for the next five months. Let the virtiol and blathering be done without me.

The West Wing, Two Cathedrals
The West Wing, Two Cathedrals
The poem below is by Katharina von Schlagell. It mirrors any number of passages in scripture. She wrote it to be a hymn and that hymn is said to be the favorite him of  Eric Liddell, Olympic runner (and then missionary) in the movie Chariots of Fire. There is also a new take on the poem by Ginny Owens.

Be Still My Soul

Be still my soul! The Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief and pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul! thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
Be still, my soul! thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul! the waves and winds still know
His voice who rules them while He dwelt below.
Be still, my soul! the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone.
Sorrow forgot, love's purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul! when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.
By Katharina von Schlegell

Friday, January 11, 2013

Podium Point #3: "Twy vewy vewy hahd not to destwoy uth."

The third podium point is diction.

Diction is how clearly the speaker says their words.

This is one of my favorite YouTube channels. Check out 31 Jokes for NERDS.

What is the most difficult tongue twister?

According to the intraweb thingy, these two are candidates:
  • Girl gargoyle, Guy gargoyle
  • Irish wrist watch

But according to Guinness Book of World Records:
  • The sixth sick sheik's sixth sheep's sick.

The weird stuff he is talking about (fricatives and the like) come from the IPA or International Phonetic Alphabet. IPA converts sounds into characters. Each character has only one sound it can make so once you learn the IPA, you can read it like a language and get every syllable and accent exact. Its great for actors learning a new dialect. Diction is making making sure each phoneme (the basic unit of language) gets its proper due.

This is a general introduction to IPA. (My degree in communications is finally paying off!)
The title comes from a West Wing Episode "Celestial Navigation" --CJ's Root Canal. It wouldn't come up as a video so until I get it figured out. Watch it and you'll understand why it fits in the diction podium point.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Podium Point #2: "Stay offa First, will'ya?"

The next of the podium points is emphasis.

The idea behind emphasis is putting importance on the word you want to give the most 'weight to.

The cat is hungry. The cat, not the dog.
The cat is hungry. I'm telling the truth about this statement.
The cat is hungry. Hungry and not thirsty.

Emphasis turned out to be an important skill this week as we conducted out National Geographic Geography Bee. Machu Picchu = MAH-choo PEEK-choo and Portugal's Algarve = al-GAHR-vee. Getting it phonetically right required getting the emphasis in the right place. I had to read Snaefellsjokull (the ae is a grapheme and there is an umlaut above the o) three times to giggles. [Shockingly, the student got that Snaefellsjokull was in Iceland.

I've been looking for video to show each podium point off and this one had me stymied. There is a comedian, Bob Biggerstaff, who has one joke in his set about 'bad emphasis' but its bluer than I would have hoped.

One of the funniest things ever recorded.

I also thought about the old Abbot and Costello sketch, "Who's on First?" Alot of its humor is derived from misplaced emphasis. Besides, it is just plain funny!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Cupcake Winners!!!

All images taken from the Georgetown Cupcakes website

In December, I ran a little contest for cupcakes.  It was oft read but only a few intrepid souls entered.

The winners are listed below.

First Runner Up :

Ellie Q.--Ellie was the default winner from this last summer since she was the only person who submitted a valid entry. I re-entered her for bragging rights and she came in second. Here is Ellie's....

  • Once we all were bros, now there b bad blood. What we say here aint no thing, but pour some out 4 r dead homies. Freedom #2cool2be4gotten

The Winner:

Sharolyn G.--I showed this one to a couple of my students after break. Two weeks off and four weeks since the Gettysburg Address was analyzed in class. Both of them immediately identified the speech. Here is Sharolyn's...
  • Look to the DoI, said L & know soldiers died for new birth of freedom—our unfinished work to carry on. Only then will our gov't not perish.

Ladies, would you please go to Georgetown Cupcakes and decide how you would like your dozen broken down, put it in the comments section of this post and I will set up delivery. Once I am ready to have them shipped, I will private message you for a physical address. Again, Congratulations!
To everyone who entered, thanks. To everyone who thought about it but didn't, one last image to torture you with...
This has been fun and, if there is interest, I might be pursuaded.
Don't give me a tweet just yet, just tell me if you want another contest.

Podium point #1: Woah, not so fast...

The Ford's Theater National Oratory Fellowship brings a teaching actor into the classroom via video conferencing. During our first class-long visit, Jojo talked with my charges about podium points. There are five vocal and four physical skills or attributes she sugggested the kids be aware of and work on. I thought I would overview them here. She did a really good job of getting them involved and it was a hoot to hear them take these attributes to the silly level.

The first is pace.

In regards to speechmaking, its the basic idea is the rate or speed you talk

This is a classic FedEx commercial from the 80s.
This is a great when you absolutely positively want to give an example of pace.

Nerd Alert! Nerd Alert! -- here is a Time article written about a study done on asking what languages sound 'faster' than others. It has to do with pace, to be sure. But the study also looked at the 'density' or how rich the meaning the of the word. Their example of this might help-the word 'to' is not particularly rich in meaning when compared to a word like 'bliss'.

I can't think about pace without thinking about this musician. He is a great example for another of the podium points as well so he may make a return appearance.

Jason Mraz, Wordplay (Live in Korea)

For my son, I looked for the fastest rapper. The one below is the labeled by Windows as the fastest. I cannot speak to this designation-nor do I care, really.

Cloud Rap: Word's Fastest Rapper on Windows Azure Cloud

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Speak only when you can improve upon the silence.

Someone asked me the other day why I hadn't blogged since mid-December.

It is not like me to be silent. My father once asked if I had been vaccinated with a phonograph needle. It was a fair question.

The reality is that I thought about posting on several occasions, but didn't feel like I had anything valuable to say. Yes, I know, 'that has not stopped you before', you say.

Those of you who know me know that it is not in my nature to remain silent. I have also been processing the lesson taught by my Ford's Theater Teaching Artist the week before holiday break. I have thoughts I want to express; ideas I want to give life to.

But I needed to stay silent.

The reason for my reticence was the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary.

The reality for me is two-fold. While the school is half a country away, the tragedy resonated with me for some reason. I haven't spoken to anyone about this really, but the shooting comes to mind at least half a dozen times a day.

To be honest, one of the split second thoughts before I recognized Senator Moran yesterday was this idea of a "stranger" in my school.

There are obvious reasons why Sandy Hook connects and the questions they raise:
  • I have a grandaughter that age.
    • How agonizing it must be for those parents and grandparents. I can't even imagine.
  • The shooting occurred in a school, my place of business.
    • How could a child ever feel safe in what is supposed to be a safe place after surviving something like this? Again, I can't even imagine.
  • Teachers were executed in the protection of their children.
    • I can remember reconciling myself to the idea of the necessity of self-sacrifice when I was a soldier...I never imagined that as a teacher that same reconciliation would be required.
The other reality is in my anger to the reaction to Sandy Hook.

It has been less than a month since Sandy Hook and we have moved on. The US has had a fiscal cliff and any number of national issues to deal with. In our daily lives, we soldiered on through the holidays while survivors of the tragedy would spend their Christmas and Hanukkah and winter break mourning and in anguish.

Some of my anger is self-directed. How quickly I let the tyranny of the urgent take control. I would try and let what ever bright shiny object in the viewfinder take priority, but the images of Sandy Hook snuck back in. I still don't know what to do with them other than acknowledge that they are there and remain open to what I'm supposed to take from it. At this point, my most cogent thought is, "I don't know". I'm taking refuge in the end of a Milton sonnet. "They also serve who only stand and wait." Patience isn't my strong suit, but I will wait.

Some of my anger comes from the treacle coming out of the television. The fact that 24/7 news didn't wait for their children's body to be identified before the blistering attacks came from both sides. Those poor children and heroic educators literally became bullet points in agendas. I am a news junky and I felt dirty and ashamed watching the coverage and reaction.

It has been less than a month and we have moved on.

It  has been less than a month and we are weary of the name calling and the blame assessing.

There is a Quaker phrase that you should only speak when you can improve on the silence. There is nothing right now that I can say can improve on silence. Quite honestly, there is little the nation can do to improve on the silence of Sandy Hook.

I'm not ready.

We aren't ready.

I give this explanation not for any other reason than someone asked why I hadn't written and I thought it was a fair question. I will be adding more posts in the future about speechifying and Ford's Theater and my life as a teacher. For better or worse, this blog is how I process and make sense of my world and I need it far more than anyone needs my insights and impressions.

Just know that in the back of my mind, Sandy Hook has taken residence. I'm not sure where it will take me. I'll let you know when I know.

"If politics brings out the worst in people; maybe people bring out the best..."

Senator Jerry Moran, R-Kansas
BTW-I have a couple classroom pictures but the blogger program is not playing nice in the sandbox.
Will post as soon as it lets me

When I see and adult in the hallway at school, my first thought is parents and so I was going through my mental roldex to figure out who this man walking up to my collegues and me. Then I recognized him ...

US Senator Jerry Moran stopped by my classroom unannounced. I had written him about a missed chance to meet him while in Washington DC and he decided to visit me instead. He said mine was one of nicest 'disgruntled' letters he had seen and so wanted to contact me. He had a little extra time that morning and so stopped by. 

No warning. No entourage.

To say I was suprised would be an understatement. On the first day back, before my first hour ...

The senator then spent my first hour chatting with my students about being a public servant. He talked about his family, school, and his new roles as one of the leaders of the Senate. He was gracious and self-depricating and my kids, in the first few minutes back from holiday break, were fascinated.

I know we blather on about partisan politics and dysfunction and he acknowledged the messiness of elections and governing. But you also got the honor he felt in public service. He reminded me that we can look at politics in a crass and cynical manner. We can also look at it from the standpoint of public servants qenuinely trying to both balance their ideals at the same time trying to discern and do the will of the people who trusted them enough to elect them.

Easily one of my favorite movies of all time.
Mr. Smith makes me think of fillubuster and I can't think fillibuster without this clip from West Wing.
As a grandfather, I concur.

To be honest, I had Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in my mind all day as a result. I know political neophytes will see me as a Polyanna and I know there are harsh realities to politics and governing, but they can sit down and shut their pie holes as I wax philosophically on why public servants serve. I honestly believe you don't go through what elected officials go through in order to play Machiavelli. Senator Moran proved my point yesterday.

I was so glad my kids got to meet Senator Moran.

I was so glad I got to meet him.