During my sophomore year, my guidance counselor told me our high school’s college prep program required that I enroll in a public speaking course.
Wow… how pleasantly unexpected and win-win his revelation had been! I mean, finally, something mandatory, which could actually jibe with (maybe even enhance and advance) my fledgling aspirations of becoming a writer, radio announcer and DJ.
There was some icing on this curricular cake, too. The instructor (let’s refer to her as Ms. W) APPEARED to be cool… well… at least that was the “411” from my elder sibling, who had previously taken this same course from this same teacher.
Of course… as is oft true in life… APPEARANCES can be deceiving (more about that in a moment).
Traipsing back into the positive territory… my speaking, regularly, before a roomful of my classmates, wound up extracting this introvert from his shell, as it were. My boost in self-confidence was greatly aided by Ms. W allowing us some freedom to choose topics we felt passionate about while knocking off each of her assignments (e.g., staging formal debates, oral interpretation of literature, composing/presenting original poetry, delivering a eulogy, etc.).
It had been that last listed assignment where I had run into trouble… learned how uncool my teacher actually was.
My “mistake” had been to “eulogize” President Richard (Tricky Dicky) Nixon, even though my praise was thickly saturated with damning satire… in spite of the fact that, at that juncture, he was, most assuredly, physically alive.
My rationale for doing so? As a passionate pacifist, Nixon’s broken campaign promise to end the Vietnam War… indeed, his doing a total 180 to escalate his war rendered me deeply horrified. The accompanying upsurge in atrocities attributable to him forced me to deem him both morally and politically dead… a conscience barren, lying, warmongering political cadaver… a figurehead who was (figuratively) lying in state in the Oval Office.
On the morning I had delivered Nixon’s eulogy, as I got in my political digs, I had a tough time maintaining a straight face… the proper, somber presentation for the circumstances. And upon my conclusion, as I stepped out from behind the lectern, I found myself amidst the enthusiastic cheers and applause from my liberal compatriots. Unfortunately, this left lefty me oblivious to the ominous signs that not all who were present were in agreement… inclusive of our instructor.
Well, the sobering moment of truth had arrived. Not unlike what we commonly see during today’s primetime, TV talent show broadcasts, Ms. W presented her customary, in-classroom, for all to hear critique. Long blog short, she was totally uncool with my presentation. Her ice-cold appraisal followed where she patronizingly suggested that perhaps I didn’t know the definition of the word “eulogy”. She then went on to mention that since my other classmates would still be presenting their eulogies the following day, this would give me some time to prepare a proper tribute… and that it had better be for someone who had actually died. So, it all boiled down to this…
Either “correctly” complete Ms. W’s assignment or accept a C+ for my Nixon piece.
Well, I wasn’t inordinately concerned. Since my past performances throughout that semester had netted me much higher marks, I knew that one and only C+ was not going to significantly drag down my overall GPA. Ergo…
With nearly all eyes in this classroom now focused, intently, squarely upon me, I used my best public speaking skills to deadpan…
“I’ll accept that C+ because all that applause I got makes me feel as if I earned an A+!”
My not knuckling under to my teacher had netted me a second round of applause… just as the bell rang to end that day’s class session.
Later on, during that evening’s family dinner table chit chat, my politically liberal, Chemistry teacher father (employed at the very same high school, no less) was also hard-pressed in maintaining a straight face as he informed me that Ms. W had confronted him in the teacher’s lounge to vent her still unresolved outrage towards me.
Of course, I knew fully well that Dad was a professional, who’d never do anything to undermine a colleague’s authority. BUT… neither would he do anything to further punish me. How could he? He loathed Nixon as much as I did. Besides, nowhere amidst Ms. W’s complaints had she accused me of sassing off to her. So, Dad knew that, while standing my political ground, I had tempered my assertiveness with respectfulness.
Possible Psychological Profiles…
Even over the passage of four+ decades’ worth of time, I’ve yet to conclude, decisively, exactly what raw nerves my Nixon eulogy had struck. But I have narrowed it down to these theories.
- Ms. W might’ve been a super-patriot… one who wholeheartedly subscribed to that “My country right or wrong” dangerous, mindless nonsense. Just for the record, a true patriot always questions questionable leaders and their policies… to not do so promotes fascism and enables tyrants.
- She might’ve been a political partisan… an amoral, hawkish, war profiteering, no questions asked, archconservative… one who’d brand anyone who disagreed with her as an un-American, Commie pinko. Again, for the record, I am a true blue American. And since my country deludes itself into believing it’s a Christian nation, I ask, why the hell can’t the “devout” find it in their hearts to accept pacifists?
- She might’ve been a pedantic pedagogue, who the rockers, Pink Floyd, (nine years later) would lyrically classify as an uninspired / uninspiring teacher. More to the point, they did sing… “All in all you’re just another brick in the wall”. And once more, for the record, Ms. W apparently could not see beyond the literal meaning of the word, “eulogy” and that got her caught up in something akin to a head-on collision with, yet, another viable literary vehicle… namely… satire.
- Whether or not Ms. W was aware of this, she had tried to squelch my imaginative (if not spot-on) premise that it is possible for someone to be morally and politically dead… and eulogize said person accordingly.
- She taught me that, as a liberal, I am viewed as a political leper (even more so in our troubled contemporary times). She served to condition me / desensitize me to the point where I don’t give a flying F that, perhaps up to 51% of my compatriots strongly disagree with me… if not outRight loathe me… if not outRight wish me dead.
- While I would’ve never expected any staunchly conservative, non-critically thinking, “my country right or wrong” teacher to ever agree with my anti-Nixon message, at the very least, she should’ve been able to check her blazing red political cloak at the classroom door… hang her red hued, hang-ups in the cloakroom long enough to reward this messenger for his creativity.
And need I even remind that I have history to vindicate me, too?
A scant four years after my mild run-in with Ms. W, Nixon, himself, eventually came to the realization that he was morally and politically dead. Hell, he even delivered his own eulogy… a.k.a. his nationally broadcasted, August 8, 1974 resignation speech. I vividly recall how, the very next day, at high noon, he performed his fancy footwork to tuck tail, cut and run and get out of Dodge/DC… to be rarely heard from again… and I’d wholeheartedly add… rightfully so!
Epilogue… I cannot help but wonder just how many of today’s flag wavers, conservative “thinkers” and “bricks in the wall” are continuing along the same lines as my above featured teacher. In a YUGE [sic] way, those engaged in such undertakings have, either unwittingly or otherwise, been doing their damnedest to bastardize the true meaning of patriotism, warp public opinion towards the far, Far, FAR right and stifle young, creative minds. If left unchecked, these formulaic, “teach to the test” “educators” will continue to breed an electorate filled with enablers of political vermin / viruses, who’ll infest / infect the body of our nation… this all leading to America’s premature death?
If that, indeed, were America’s dismal fate, I, for one, would never want to be around to deliver that eulogy!