March 01, 2006

Utopia


During my trip to Minnesota I went to church in the church I grew up in. As it happened my scoutmaster's granddaughter was being baptised-- a fine coincidence, a chance to see old friends and baptism has always been my favorite sacrament. It is wonderful to welcome a new soul into the world and it is a reaffirmation of faith for those present. I like the idea that the community agrees to help raise the child.

The other side of life was also present during my visit in an unexpected way. I went to see The Music Man at The Little Theater in Owatonna; my sister had a role as an Iowan. The play was directed by Sarah Foreman, who taught an English class that I took in High School called Utopia. We went backstage after the show to talk with her-- she may be the only teacher that me and all of my siblings had. As she put it, I had 'talked myself out of an A' in her course.

The concept of the class was to examine utopia in literature. We started with an ideal society described by an ancient Greek author, and finished with modern works like Huxley's Brave New World and Orwell's 1984. She said that she would give an A to anyone who could figure out a way to bring down the government in that book. I took the bait, together with Brad Collette and Joe Mamer. We read and reread the book, and filled page after page with our notes. Finally our day in court came and I presented our case, which relied on a single citizen to start the revolt in a public place, which would then spread quickly before the government could react. We needed a second day of class to present the arguments. We had a 15-point chain of logic that proved why our revolution would succeed, and I refused to present the next point until the current point had been accepted; a command decision. Of course it was a setup since she herself was the judge of whether our plan had succeeded, and she declared that she wanted to hear the whole case through before she would decide whether we had succeeded or not. We couldn't convince her that everyone would follow the lone revolutionary announcing his presence via loudspaker at a sporting event. In hindsight I believe that we should have focused on the structural weaknesses of a command economy.

Anyway, what I remember is that she got me to study a book like I had never done before, and in a subject (English) that I was not very interested in. In English class I could never really figure out what it was they expected me to do-- there were no right answers like in math and science. She was a great teacher and her classroom was a dynamic space. There was a bulliten board at the back of the room dedicated to free expression. Everyone was welcome to write-- my favorites were quotations from Zippy the Pinhead and Jim Morrison. One day after class she looked me in the eye and said, 'You know your father has helped a lot of people.' I said, 'I know.'

I first met her when I was in a production of Annie Get Your Gun (also at The Little Theater). I was in sixth grade and played an indian. Got to walk on stage in front of complete strangers wearing nothing but a loincloth, moccasins and a bone necklace. Her advice to me was that I should stop looking all around the theater, and instead just stare straight ahead like the other indians were doing. At the cast party they had a real live bartender.

Sarah Foreman got meningitis and went into the hospital, and passed away just a few days ago. She was definitly one of the good ones. May you rest in peace.

2 Comments:

At March 02, 2006 5:30 AM , Anonymous Brad said...

Thanks for the post. That brought back a lot of memories.

I'm really sorry to hear about Mrs Foreman (can't bring myself to call her by her first name). I remember one assignment that I really blew off and just threw something together at the last minute. She held me after class and got in my face. She said I was "too damn smart to turn in crap like that" She used flattery, accusation, and accountability in a way I've never forgotten.

By the way. I'm reading Jared Diamond's book 'Collapse' I think we mighta had a good shot at bringing down the government by cutting down all the trees. It might have brought down the whole civilization, but an A is A.

 
At June 06, 2006 3:03 PM , Blogger Joe said...

Matt? Brad? Who ever thought I would find you guys here! Never fails to amaze me.

I remember Mrs. Foreman well. I saw her last Christmas at a party. She was always a treat to talk with.

Brad, I had a similar experience with her in Advanced Composition. She complimented a paper I wrote and gave me a good grade (A- I think). When I mentioned that I started writing it the morning before at 2AM she looked at me and told me I was capable of so much more if I only took it more seriously. She knew how to connect with the students.

 

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