Monday, January 21, 2008

No Disrespect Intended....

...but I can't think of Martin Luther King without remembering one of the darkest periods of my life--just after college when I was teaching English comp. for $600 a month.

The composition curriculum was fairly rigid. The initial weeks of each class were devoted to analyses and discussion of nonfiction texts, taking them apart and showing the students the nuts and bolts of, say, Joan Didion's "I Can't Get That Monster Out of My Mind" or May Sarton's "On Solitude." At a certain point in the class we discussed traditional tools of classical rhetoric, such as anadiplosis (repetition of a word or phrase in successive clauses) and climax (arranging words or phrases in order of increasing importance). Then came their first paper: they were to choose a famous piece of writing and discuss the author's technique.

I was sitting my office grading these papers when I came to one on MLK's "I Have a Dream" written by my student Darren.* Darren was conscientious, sweet, and not very bright. He was going through the speech in a fairly competent manner, pointing out Biblical allusions and parallelism in all the right places and then:

"At this point, Martin Luther King had a climax."

When I finished banging my head on my desk I decided to take a break. I was walking through the corridors of the English department when I saw a professor whom I knew fairly well. I said to him blithely, "Did you know Martin Luther King had a climax during the 'I Have a Dream Speech'?"

A flicker of astonishment in his eyes was followed by a dirty little gleam. Then he grinned.

"Did he really?"

*All names have been changed to protect the clueless.

No famous speeches or filthy-minded professors were harmed in the writing of this blog post.

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