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The Opposite of Wonderland

Posted: 2006-10-26

...as the speech ends and the words echoed: ?Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we?re free at last?? my daughter says she felt her heart pounding, racing!

Comments from Annie: My daughter is studying speeches in English; well actually, she is studying the mechanics of speech writing. You know? they are learning to identify ethos, pathos and logos, antithesis, anaphora, and allusion.

Anyhow, I hope I can get this right on paper?The class has been listening to classic, powerful speeches. The other day they listened to Martin Luther King, Jr. in class.

My daughter described a chilling scenario. The teacher, a droning, lackluster sort, who seldom varies, ever, from the scripted guide for curriculum turned on the video. The first period students were restless, exhausted, wanting to sleep because they catch the bus before 6:30 a.m., hungry, because they seldom feel like eating that early, edgy because their teacher is so out-of-touch with them?.

So, the video rolls and like magic, the students are awake, alert, and listening. All eyes are riveted and like one solid force, the students attend with visible intensity to the words of this speech.

This is a school where just a few years ago, swastikas were carved into hallway walls.

The speech delivered an intense, palpable, measure of excitement to these 14, 15, and 16 year old kids. And as the speech ends and the words echoed: ?Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we?re free at last?? my daughter says she felt her heart pounding, racing!

She looked at the faces of her classmates and everyone, EVERYONE was absolutely impassioned and alive with feeling; awake! How often does this happen in a high school English class?

But the teacher didn?t skip a beat; he turned the video off, and turning toward the class, immediately demanded of them:

?Ok, what were the verbal and non-verbal techniques that King used to deliver his speech??

My daughter was floored. She says she could hardly switch her gears so quickly but also was furious that the words, the message, the feelings stemming from such a powerful speech could be ignored.

?What we felt was totally ignored.? She said. ?What we thought, how we thought meant nothing.?

The teacher is a robot and every student who has him knows it. The problem is, this kind of behavior, his style of teaching is perfectly acceptable when you consider the present context of managed test-learning.

Since that day, the class has listened to several more passionate speeches. The speeches are keeping my daughter breathless and in awe. But, the teacher and the curriculum scripts have her home today with a bad case of apathy. She is a dedicated student; she?ll do her work and she?ll even go beyond the shortened boundaries that have defined her misery in school, but she, like many children, will have to figure out a way to maintain their passions away from the classroom.

And below, we find Alice encountering another sort of lesson from another sort of teacher.

Oh, to be Alice?.

`You seem very clever at explaining words, Sir,' said Alice. `Would you kindly tell me the meaning of the poem called "Jabberwocky"?'

`Let's hear it,' said Humpty Dumpty. `I can explain all the poems that were ever invented -- and a good many that haven't been invented just yet.'

This sounded very hopeful, so Alice repeated the first verse:

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

`That's enough to begin with,' Humpty Dumpty interrupted: `there are plenty of hard words there. "Brillig" means four o'clock in the afternoon -- the time when you begin broiling things for dinner.'

`That'll do very well,' said Alice: and "slithy"?'

`Well, "slithy" means "lithe and slimy." "Lithe" is the same as "active." You see it's like a portmanteau -- there are two meanings packed up into one word.'

`I see it now,' Alice remarked thoughtfully: `and what are "toves"?'

`Well, "toves" are something like badgers -- they're something like lizards -- and they're something like corkscrews.'

`They must be very curious looking creatures.'

`They are that,' said Humpty Dumpty: `also they make their nests under sun-dials -- also they live on cheese.'

`Andy what's the "gyre" and to "gimble"?'
`To "gyre" is to go round and round like a gyroscope. To "gimble" is to make holes like a gimblet.'

`And "the wabe" is the grass-plot round a sun-dial, I suppose?' said Alice, surprised at her own ingenuity.

`Of course it is. It's called "wabe," you know, because it goes a long way before it, and a long way behind it -- '

`And a long way beyond it on each side,' Alice added.

`Exactly so. Well, then, "mimsy" is "flimsy and miserable" (there's another portmanteau for you). And a "borogove" is a thing shabby-looking bird with its feathers sticking out all round -- something like a live mop.'

`And then "mome raths"?' said Alice. `I'm afraid I'm giving you a great deal of trouble.'

`Well, a "rath" is a sort of green pig: but "mome" I'm not certain about. I think it's short for "from home" -- meaning that they'd lost their way, you know.'

`And what does "outgrabe" mean?'

`Well, "outgribing" is something between bellowing and whistling, with a kind of sneeze in the middle: however, you'll hear it done, maybe -- down in the wood yonder -- and when you've once heard it you'll be quite content.

-- Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

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