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The Case for Oratory

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Oratory is a group experience, a give and take between speaker and audience. In contrast with other subjects like physics or philosophy or the political history of France, the best indication of how much you are learning comes from how your fellow students (i.e., your audience) respond to your work.

Dana Yeaton leads a warm-up exercise using tai chi.

Dana Yeaton leads a warm-up exercise at the start of class.

That’s why Dana Yeaton ’79 teaches oratory in a workshop format. One of the 125 courses offered on campus during the 2014 Winter Term, Oratory: A Speechmaking Studio was a class on a mission.

“This course wants you knowledgeable about the history of rhetoric. It wants you passionate to explore the world of ideas and put what you find into words. It wants you confident that when you stand up and speak those words, people will listen and maybe even be changed,” Yeaton said in the first class.

“And to do all that you need each other. As an audience, yes, and as fellow travelers who will question and challenge and console each other along the way. Your best work will very likely come from the desire to engage your classmates.”

The 22 students were required to give a speech on the first day of J-term and a speech the next day and a dinner toast and a critical response to Pericles’ Funeral Oration. There was a mini-moth, a rant, a “great speech speech,” and a three-minute speech adapted from a term paper that had been written for any other class. There was also a TEDx pitch, a scripted and memorized TEDx talk, and probably one or two more speeches. And every speech was videotaped and critiqued by fellow students.

Yeaton, a visiting assistant professor of theatre, believes that great oratorical skills come from understanding the basics of rhetoric, gaining an appreciation for what makes a great speech, mastering the physical aspects of public speaking (use of voice, posture, eye contact, etc.), and practice, practice, practice.

Cole Bortz, from Littleton, Colorado, delivers his mini-moth speech.

Cole Bortz, a first-year student from Colorado, delivers a speech.

During the second week of class, the oratory students delivered their mini-moth speeches, which were five-minute-long personal stories told live without notes. By this time members of the class were well versed in their public-speaking basics: approaching the podium (or stage) with confidence, finding a solid neutrality in their stance, establishing a moment of solidarity with the audience, and enunciating clearly.

The class split up for a mini-moth practice session, and James Clifford, a junior from Tiburon, Calif., picked a partner and headed into the hallway of the Mahaney Center for the Arts looking for a place to work on his speech. He chose a quiet spot under the stairs and launched into his mini-moth about why his friends on the ski team call him “The Fireman.” (Moth talks are based on The Moth Radio Hour, an NPR show, and moth performances have been popular at Middlebury for the past four or five years.)

Clifford’s true story was about how he bonded with other members of the team on an Alpine ski-training trip out West. It involved a pan of flaming nachos, the local fire department, billows of smoke, and, well, that’s how he earned the moniker of “The Fireman.” After practicing his speech and reviewing the feedback, Clifford returned to the classroom where he would present it to the class.

“Oratory has been one of the most valuable pieces of my Middlebury education,” Clifford later said. “Through this class I found my voice on the page and I found my voice at the podium.”

The case for oratory is on the rise at Middlebury. Yeaton is working with a group of administrators who are discussing how to make proficiency in public speaking an expectation within the curriculum. Their effort comes on the heels of President Ron Liebowitz’s observation in Middlebury Magazine that alumni are saying the College could do a better job preparing its graduates for the rigors of public speaking.

All eyes are focused on the speaker.

In oratory, all eyes are focused on the speaker.

Sophomore Premlata Persaud from New Jersey is confident that the oratorical skills she gained during Winter Term will transfer to other classes. “I find it difficult sometimes in seminars to express my ideas in a way that really convinces my professors and other students, but now I have a checklist of sorts to go through before I make an important statement in class.”

Heading into the 2014 J-term, Dana Yeaton had high hopes that his class’s enthusiasm for oratory would spread across campus. “This course is designed as a laboratory in which we will be teaching each other the art of oratory,” he told his students. “You will be reading, analyzing, writing, and delivering speeches; you’ll do physical and vocal training, and focus exercises.” And he also said the class would be “exporting” this model through a workshop series and at the Martin Luther King Oratorio in Mead Chapel, which Yeaton directed.

The professor’s hope took root when the oratory students offered a series of public-speaking workshops open to anyone wishing to improve their oral communication skills. During the final week of Winter Term about a dozen students from the Middlebury Entrepreneurs class showed up at the workshop, anxious to hone their oratorical skills for the final projects they would present in their class the next day.

For two hours the oratory students became the teachers: they formed small groups, discussed principles of oratory, analyzed the visitors’ speeches, and led training exercises designed to build their guests’ public-speaking skills.

In a spontaneous moment during class one January afternoon, the students decided to form the Oratory Society of Middlebury. The group made a circle in the middle of Room 232 and composed the oath Ethos, Logos, Pathos for membership in the Oratory Society, which is open to the Middlebury College community. The College would now have a student organization committed to conducting workshops, sponsoring public-speaking events, and advocating for oratory’s place on campus.

If anyone were looking for a sign that students had bought in to the importance of oratory as a group learning experience, this was it.

Class Assignment: Give Away $100,000

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

How hard could it be to give away $100,000? Just write the check, make someone’s day, smiles all around.

Of course, it’s not that simple. At least not if you’re weighing the countless factors philanthropists must consider, which is what a group of 25 Middlebury students did during a new J-term course titled “Philanthropy: Ethics and Practice.”

The money was real — $100,000 from the Texas-based Once Upon A Time Foundation, which has made similar grants to several colleges and universities to support the study of philanthropic giving. The class’s charge was to research nonprofit organizations that interested them, and allocate the funds by the end of the course.

Sarah Stroup, assistant professor of political science guides a class dicsussion.

Sarah Stroup, assistant professor of political science, guides a class discussion.

A faculty team of political scientist Sarah Stroup and philosophy professor Steven Viner served as facilitators, crafting the course to blend the mechanics of philanthropic giving with the ethical decision-making tools necessary for such important choices.

For the first two weeks, students delved into the intricacies of nonprofits and philanthropy. They split into five groups and compiled lists of possible organizations to support, then spent a week immersed in research on their prospective grantees, including phone conversations, meetings, and tours. They narrowed the field significantly with each group considering one to three potential organizations.

Sitting with Stroup and Viner, one student group described how they’d honed their list down to one local social services group — the Addison County Parent Child Center. They liked supporting an organization in the local college community and were impressed with the center’s results in reducing teen pregnancy.  But will it persuade their classmates?

Students listened to detailed briefing papers from their classmates on each of the charities considered for grants.

Students listened to detailed briefing papers from their classmates on each of the charities considered for grants.

“I feel like in order for them to keep providing help and education on a case-by-case basis, we need to address the issues of staffing,” said Luke Martinez ‘14. Martinez noted that most of the center’s funding comes mostly from Medicaid and the state, but those sources seem continually at risk as the country digs out of recession.

“That won’t be sexy to present in front of the class, but it’s the fact of the matter,” added fellow group member Emmy Masur ‘13.

Week four marked a transition to the hard work of narrowing the list even further in preparation to make awards. To help create a baseline of shared information about the charities, each student group presented a briefing paper that included background, structures and strategies, financial information, oversight and monitoring, evidence of impact, and reasons why to support them.

They narrowed the field to four finalists: Gardens for Health International, which fights malnutrition; Grassroot Soccer, which works to reduce HIV infection through education; and Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI), which reduces parasitic worm infections in Africa, and the local Addison County Parent Child Center.

The class took numerous hand votes to narrow down the finalists, but ultimately voted on paper to reach consensus.

The class took numerous hand votes to narrow down the finalists, but struggled to reach consensus.

But along with a smaller field comes stronger advocacy from the student groups. When students had a chance to ask each other for additional information, there were sometimes testy exchanges as students slipped into the role of advocates. They all knew what was on the line for their charity and wanted to make a compelling case.

“I think we expected this,” said Stroup, “that as the decision moment came closer, students were not thinking about these questions in abstract terms. They were thinking about them in the particular context of the charities that they felt passionately drawn to.”

On the last day of class, the moment of truth arrives, when the class must decide — together — how they’ll parcel out the money. Everyone knows how much research and emotion the other teams have invested, but they really want their group to come out ahead.

Stroup and Viner, now in full facilitator mode, guide the students into a decision process that’s fair and logical. Viner has suggested a kind of “Robert’s Rules” system to keep the class on track. Trying to narrow the decision further, the class takes a series of votes: how many charities to fund, which are your preferred charities, if we vote for only three, what would they be, and so on.

Ian Stewart ’14 (center) broke through the stalemate by suggesting a paper vote.

Ian Stewart ’14 (center) broke through the stalemate by suggesting a paper vote.

Three solid hours of deliberation yields a stalemate, and a new group dynamic. Quite simply, it is difficult to sit in a circle of friends and peers, and tell them you don’t want to support their cause. Ian Stewart ‘14 proposes a solution that breaks the log jam: Each member of the class write on a piece of paper how much money they would allocate to each of the four groups and then tally the class average for each. It’s an imperfect solution — some groups get more, some less — but it nicely illustrates the need for compromise and progress. Gardens for Health and SCI end up with $35,000 each, while Grassroot Soccer and the Parent Child Center end up with $15,000 each.

With a decision finally made, the mood turned from tension to joy, exuberance, and relief. And despite all the wrangling that came before, the class seems satisfied that the will of the group was reflected in their decision.

Viner applauded the students’ efforts, especially their perseverance when it might have been easier to split the money evenly and call it a day. “That’s a sort of life lesson about us learning how to do good with our money,” he said. “These are difficult decisions, but there’s also an undercurrent of another sort of problem that arose, which is coordinating with others to come to a decision about how our projects will clash with, and come into tension with, other people’s projects even when they’re both good projects.”

“Our class introduced students to both ‘what is’ in the American nonprofit sector as well as to perhaps ‘what should be’ in terms of our responsibilities to others,” said Stroup, “and we hope that the conversations that we began over J-term continue as students grow as citizens and leaders.”

Applications due for J-Term internship credit by THIS SUNDAY, December 9th!

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

As the end of the semester approaches, so does the deadline to apply for credit for your J-Term internship. You can apply for academic credit through MOJO until this Sunday, December 9th.

One general distribution course credit is awarded upon completion of all required paperwork.

For more details on what to include in the application, head to MOJO and search Application for Credit, or contact Doug at internships@middlebury.edu.

Guess what those snow flurries mean…

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

That it was less than 32 degrees out this morning.

But more importantly, it’s a signal that J-Term is just around the corner!

Still not sure of your J-Term plans? What about an internship?

There are still some awesome opportunities in MOJO. As the snow falls in January, you could be:

  • putting your Spanish skills to use as an Advocacy Intern for the Vermont Immigration Project
  • participating in development and strategic planning for the Fit Kids Foundation
  • engaging with the local community at the Charter House Emergency Shelter
  • working in a classroom at the Peck School
  • or researching rural education in China for the REAP project.

For more information and to apply, visit MOJO today!

Guess what those snow flurries mean…

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

That it was less than 32 degrees out this morning.

But more importantly, it’s a signal that J-Term is just around the corner!

Still not sure of your J-Term plans? What about an internship?

There are still some awesome opportunities in MOJO. As the snow falls in January, you could be:

  • putting your Spanish skills to use as an Advocacy Intern for the Vermont Immigration Project
  • participating in development and strategic planning for the Fit Kids Foundation
  • engaging with the local community at the Charter House Emergency Shelter
  • working in a classroom at the Peck School
  • or researching rural education in China for the REAP project.

For more information and to apply, visit MOJO today!

Love languages? Linguistics? Teaching? A J-Term internship for you…

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Still not sure about your J-Term plans?

Interested in languages, linguistics or teaching? Speak Spanish, Chinese, Amharic, Hindi or Punjabi? Apply to be an English Language Learner (ELL) Program Assistant for J-Term! The Addison Central Supervisory Union is looking for interns to assist ELL teachers in development materials and resources in multiple languages for programs and parents. Interns would work about six hours a week during J-Term, primarily on the administrative end of the programs. Interns would create and translate newsletter templates, questionnaires and other forms.

Ready to get started? Head to MOJO and apply today!

Ch-ch-check it out! Fit Kids J-Term Internship

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Love health and fitness? Still not sure of your J-Term plans? Midd Alum Ashley Riley ’98 is offering an exciting internship opportunity for J-Term in Menlo Park, CA. The Fit Kids Foundation was founded in January 2011, with a mission to promote healthy, active lives for children in underserved communities. Fit Kids provides opportunities for participation in organized fitness classes, working to inspire a love of sports and physical activity to develop healthy lifestyle habits and build participants’ self-confidence.

There is a huge demand for Fit Kids programs, and there are incredible opportunities to make an impact on children around the country. And that’s where YOU come in. Fit Kids is looking for a Development and Strategic Planning Intern to help with research, strategic planning and identifying key partners and experts.

Want to help Fit Kids expand their programs across the country? Head to MOJO and apply today!