Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Today, in my English class, we discussed the uses of logos, ethos and pathos in rhetoric.

It was a lot of fun.  I can't claim that I am the best at rhetoric; I failed at persuasive essays in English class.  However, we enjoyed examining the way we communicate with people and which of the persuasive strategies we use given certain situations.

For my example of a use of rhetoric that exemplifies good use of all three strategies, I pulled out Martin Luther King Jr's I Have a Dream speech.  As a class, we went through a few important points, outlining which strategy he used at various points.  And then, because I didn't want my class to miss out on hearing it given, I played a recording of it.

I sat down next to my students and listened along, at first absorbed in identifying what made his speech effective.

And then I thought about what he actually meant when he used ethos to refer to the Constitution, Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation.  I thought about that fact that 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, he was still arguing for and crying for his people - and all people, really - to be free.

I thought about the first time I heard this speech given.  I was in second grade.  We were supposed to write out all our dreams.  I remember taking that assignment very seriously.  For some reason, around that same time, I remember distinctly running errands with my dad (I used to beg him to always take me using this fabulous bit of child logic, "If you have to run 'erins', shouldn't you take Erin too?")  He was listening to NPR and the news talked about Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union.  There I was, a little girl, quite cheerfully naive of the USSR and the Cold War, listening to the radio broadcast and declare very serious subjects about the state of the world and its people.  It was a jolt into the rest of the world outside of South Jacksonville and my family.  I asked my dad lots of questions then.  I think that might have been my first glimpse into just how big and sometimes broken this world can sometimes seem.  By the time I turned in the assignment, I had written down as many little "world peace" and "goodwill and freedom to all" comments my little brain could think of.

But I didn't realize then that those dreams could be a reality.  When my words were published in the local newspaper - I lived in a small village so getting the paper was really no big deal - someone handed me a copy of my assignment with a smile.  On it, she wrote, "I hope your dreams come true."  I just stared at those words, wondering if I really, really believed what I had written.

Martin Luther King, Jr., however, did not wonder if it could be a reality.  He knew it could.  He lived for that dream; he died for that dream.

I marvel that this world created a Martin Luther King, Jr. with his vision.  I marvel that the world creates so many other good men and women who dream that we can yet make this place better than it is.

Back to class: Carried away by all of these thoughts by the end of that speech, I was almost in tears.  One of my students started clapping proudly while the other students soon followed suit, while I just watched them in amazement.  Somehow, they, too, got a glimpse of what he saw and hoped for.

I am grateful, truly grateful.

In another display of the beauty of the human spirit, I can't seem to stop listening to this amazing song by Monkey Majik with images from the tsunami that hit the Miyagi Prefecture in early March.

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