Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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I talked with John Moser about acting and teaching. John is a professor of history and a wonderful teacher, and, a pretty fair actor. So we talked mostly about his hobby, acting, and some about how it relates to teaching. He has a play—a comedy—coming up this weekend and the next, and if you are nearby Mansfield, Ohio, you should attend. After all, as the Poet says in A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, "How shall we beguile the lazy time, if not with some delight?"

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After ten years of experience I can vouch that teaching is very closely connected to acting - the pre-arranged questions and dialogue, reading from the sources with verve, asking questions with just the right facial expression, eliciting the laughter you know will come if done correctly, the studied reaction to the students’ answers, the flailing arms in excitement and the folded arms deep in thought . . . I could go on. At the end of most days of teaching, while other teachers are doing lesson plans and making copies and grading papers, I am laying back in my chair exhausted, unable to move.

That’s what inspires students to be great. Try putting that into a standardized test, a "cooperative group project," or a worksheet.

I once had a professor who said, referring to class size: "Over 100 it’s all show business."

So, are you saying that the best teachers are the best actors? What if someone is a good actor but completely unprepared substantively? Isn’t that elevating appearance over substance?

Truly, it IS a performance. It is just as Tony says. Today, I read from student essays on themselves, dramatic readings that made the writing seem much better than it was, really. These were their revisions, and it is a remedial class, so.... I wanted to encourage them. I read just as I had read Hamlet’s soliloquy last Thursday. This time, it was selected readings from 24 papers, took about an hour, and after a break, I pranced before the board, diagramming and discussing problem sentences from their work for another 40 minutes. Yes, I am exhausted.

Dain, You need good material, or the performance is a bust. Think of a movie with great actor and a bad script; the movie is still bad, though the actor might be good. It is as the surprising slice of a good summer tomato on a MacDonald’s burger. It might enhance the thing, but the whole is still a dog’s breakfast.

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