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From Personal Song to Public Speaking Confidence — Some State-of-the-Art Guidance for Middle Schoolers and Older

Feb 4, 2012 by

Robert Oliphant EducationViews Columnist currently serves as executive director of The Alliance for High Speed Recreational Reading, and formerly served as executive director of Californians for Community College Equity.

By Robert Oliphant  –

My name is Bob and I believe in following the public, not leading it. This means that the favorable public response to a Los Angeles Times article of mine (Health section) has convinced me to use it as an opener for a longer effort on the same theme, that is, the importance of mastering international spoken American English for all Americans, especially middle schoolers.

So let’s start with the LA Times piece, which is fun, and then segue to a much larger target: becoming an effective and fearless public speaker of international spoken American English.

PART ONE: RHYTHM, SONG, VISUALIZATION, AND PARODY (RSVP).

 

Music keeps minds active and memories alive

A patient uses lyrics and melodies to ease the boredom of a long hospital stay.

Robert Oliphant found ways to enrich his forced confinements. (Handout, LA TIMES / March 3, 1998)

By Robert Oliphant, Special to the Los Angeles Times

January 30, 2012

My name is Bob, and I know what it’s like to be flat on your back for more than two months.

My first encounter was for a form of arthritis called Reiter’s syndrome — a three-month stay in a Veterans Affairs hospital marked by boredom and depression. Fifty years later, I was confined again, by a broken hip, but this time my stay turned out to be surprisingly productive.

Rhythm: It was purely by chance one night that I attempted to keep track of a basic rhythm with my left hand while beating out the rhythm of the words to “Jingle Bells” with my right. My multitasking coordination was way, way off: It took me several weeks to get the knack of handling two rhythms simultaneously.

When it all came together, though, the impact of this multitasking upon my self-esteem was electric.

Songs: Each of us is a memorization winner with a repertoire of at least 2,000 songs (at least according to the Internet). If you cue yourself with a word like “love,” for instance, you’ll probably come up with at least three song titles. The words in the songs trigger memories of more songs and many evoke strong personal reactions. “Jingle all the way” triggers “Way down upon the Swanee River,” which triggers “Moon River” — followed by as many more as your ingenuity can produce.

For me, “Moon River” evokes composer Henry Mancini and a vivid picture of my high school brass band performance with more than 50 other Sousaphonists in Aliquippa, Pa. — all of us playing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” with Henry Mancini (then a senior) tootling away nearby with more than 100 fellow flutists. One of many precious personal memories waiting to be activated by chance.

Visibility: The mind’s eye can quickly translate the music we hear into visual shapes that distinguish between high and low notes, even in the dark. Imagine “moon” (a middle-pitched note) as a sphere or as a line. Or borrow the images you choose from “Doe, a deer, a female deer,” of “The Sound of Music” fame. But the important element is seeing each syllable as a visible creature in its own musical space.

There I was, flat on my back, with all of these friendly, little musical creatures dancing through my head until I drifted off to sleep, always with a feeling of honest work well done.

Parodies: Keep the melody and change the lyrics a little — as a fourth-grader, how I admired my friend Charlie Mushwick’s parody of the national anthem: “Oh-oh SAY can you SEE / an-y BED bugs on ME? / if you CAN, take a FEW / and then YOU’LL have some TOO. A gross form, certainly, but well worth it as an opportunity to go public and please.

To sum up: The challenge of solitude, be it that of jail, hospital, social isolation or sleeplessness, can be transformed to a resource, not a penalty. Why not allow our personal love for songs to help us when we need it?

Oliphant is the author of books such as “A Piano for Mrs. Cimino” (1980), a Reader’s Digest worldwide selection whose film version won a Monte Carlo award for Bette Davis. He writes a column for EducationViews.org. His recent e-books can be accessed via http://www.NonpartisanEducationReview.org.

My Turn is a forum for readers to recount an experience related to health or fitness. Submissions should be 500 words or fewer, are subject to editing and condensation and become the property of The Times. Email health@latimes.com. Read more at latimes.com/myturn.

 

PART TWO

Stand Up Speaking Skills and Spoken Professional American Dictionary English Robert Oliphant

About the author. . . . Oliphant’s best known book, A Piano for Mrs. Cimino, was a Reader’s Digest selection worldwide; its film version (still viewed worldwide) won a Monte Carlo award for Bette Davis. He studied English Philology at Stanford (PhD 1962) under Herbert Meritt, who had studied Indo-European linguistics at Princeton under Harold Bender, chief etymologist for the 1932 Merriam Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary. Currently a columnist for Education Views, Oliphant is a WWII veteran (Army Air Corps) and an emeritus professor of English at California State University, Northridge.

Introduction. . . . The USA under Siege and Spoken Professional American Dictionary English. . . . As will be apparent what’s here is largely old time stuff. But its sense of urgency is spanking new, namely, a strong possibility that the United States will be the first nation to go down in history as being conquered by its own language, call it Sina English or Spoken Professional American Dictionary English (SPADE).

By way of backup close to home, consider the language policy of Sallie Mae, our giant student loan program, whose loan counselors now work out of tele-sales cubicles in the Philippines, along with the impressive enunciation displayed on TV recently by Egyptian rioters and Japanese refugees (better than our own college students, most Americans agree).

Simply put, a global market place requires its professionals to speak a common dictionary-based global language, and speak it effectively, not just keyboard a few buzz words here and there. Yet apart from professional newscasters, the USA itself encourages the use of local dialects in its classrooms, as opposed to the “platform speech” emphasized in its own state-of-the-art electronic dictionaries as available via dictionary.com.

It was not always so. As noted by de Tocqueville and even Winston Churchill, our American democracy has always required public debate and public debaters, all of whom acquired their skill by memorizing and declaiming recitation targets, e.g., Theodore Roosevelt learning Longfellow’s King Olaf and shouting it into the teeth of a local thunderstorm.

Following the offshore emphasis upon forceful performance, Poetry Out Loud began five years ago to offer a nationwide poetry declamation contest that has now grown from 40,000 participants to well over 400,000, in addition to which many American magnet schools now offer an emphasis upon forensic skills in connection with their law enforcement programs.

Building upon a growing recognition of SPADE fluency as an American necessity, what’s here simply offers a time saving system for taking the first step toward public speaking confidence. Practically considered, from middle through college, this entails high speed memorization of prose performance targets like Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, traditionally a Fourth of July favorite.

As will be apparent, our prose rhythm system will work with nearly any prose target, including lists of technical terms. So our presentation simply focuses upon a few basic targets: a Biblical psalm, the Gettysburg itself, and the Declaration of Independence. But our approach is multi-dimensional, including our natural urge to link rhythmic prose targets to suitable “four beat” melody companions, e.g., singing “American, the Beautiful” to the melody of out ubiquitous “Alphabet Song.”

Our first-step emphasis rules out classroom suggestions regarding group performance along the lines set fourth in Maud Hill Arbuthnot’s seminal “Children and Books.” But I’m confident that the learners themselves, not just parents and teachers, will quickly discover and exploit this feature.

All in all, what’s here is meant as a modest auxiliary tool, not as an educational breakthrough. Additional materials can be downloaded from www.npe.ednews.org under Resources/ Oliphant.

Biblical Psalms and Four-Beat Rhythm

Religious texts are primarily oral documents meant for communal use in houses of worship and for personal meditation. Consequently, they are composed and presented with the goal of making maximum impact upon the memory of the listener or readers. Though the Psalms, for instance, were composed in Hebrew, their subsequent translations were executed with the goal, as William Tyndale put it, of “being SUNG [emphasis added] by the plowman at his plow as well as the scholar in his study.”

Tyndale might have added “by warriors going into battle,” for the singing of psalms by Protestant soldiers was a major factor in the superior discipline of Cromwell’s army, just as it had been in the German Peasant’s Revolt and in the Hussite wars before 1400. If someone in time writes a book called “Music Goes to War,” this pre-1400 singing of psalms will certainly invite comparison with Turkish military practice, along with the shaping impact of the Bektashi sect (very popular among the Janissaries) upon pre Lutheran Protestantism.

Tyndale’s successors, the “company” who created the King James translation produced, and intended to produce a very effective oral document whose rhythms are just as memory friendly as those of modern free verse. It’s true that the King James has been followed by more up-to-date translations with far less theeing and thouing. But the King James still reigns supreme when it comes to oral presentation, as in Nicol Williamson’s recent one-man theatrical presentation of the Gospel According to St. Mark, which at 10,000 words made for a moving and dramaturgically effective two-hour theatrical experience (“The Greatest Story Ever Told — BRIEFLY,” it might have been called.

 

A Two-Step Four-Beat Translation

Given the memory-friendly nature of the King James, we have good reason to expect that a four-beat translation of the Twenty-Third Psalm will work quite well. Here’s a preliminary sketch.

STEP ONE: RHYTHMIC LINE-CONVERSION. . . . Rhythm is built into our natural speaking as much as into our poetry and song lyrics. So it makes sense, as indicated below, to represent the 23rd Psalm as a sequence of rhythmic lines suitable for singing and sing-song chanting. As you’ll discover, it takes a bit of juggling, especially if you want a symmetrical four-stanza target with four lines in each stanza and four strongly stressed syllables or words in each line (represented here by accent marks over the vowel.

But as you’ll also discover, this representation opens the door to multi-task learning via which finger-counting (1,2,3,4 — including rests where called for) and speaking work together. . . . What’s here, then, IS the 23rd Psalm as far as the words, sentences, and punctuation goes. The only change is that of indicating stressed syllables and basing line divisions on our natural four-stress grouping.

STEP TWO: LEARNING-GRID REPRESENTATIONS. . . . There’s nothing more discouraging in rote-repetition learning than grinding to a complete stop after going blank on one little word in the middle of our target. There’s also nothing that builds preliminary confidence more than being given clues to bring our natural word-detective skills into play. As indicated below, it’s a simple tactile-learning strategy to write out an abbreviated version of each line that retains a relatively small number of complete words and represents the others with their initial letters, along with hyphens to represent additional syllables.

Even better, since the number of retained words can be decreased, our strategy equips each learner to create his or her own ascending levels of difficulty — just like ascending El Capitan from its gentle slope, not its forbidding north face.

With clues like these it’s not surprising that most learners achieve 70% accuracy target-recall at their first attempt. Nor is it surprising that their word-detective skills will usually recognize additional memory clues like the parallel-verb opening pattern: maketh…. leadeth…. restoreth….leadeth.

 

(1) THE 23rd PSALM: 4-beat rhythmic-line version. Stressed syllables indicated, and empty beats are indicated via a bracketed rest.

 

The Lórd is my shép-herd, I sháll not wánt.

He má-keth mé to lie dówn in green pás-tures.

He léad-eth mé be-síde the still wát-ers.

Hé re-stór-eth my sóul. […. rést]

He léad-eth me ín the páths of ríght-eous-ness

Fór his náme’s sake; yéa, though I wálk

Through the vál-ley óf the shád-ow of déath,

I will féar no é-vil, for Thóu art wíth me.

 

Thy ród and Thy stáff, they cóm-fort mé.

Thou pre-pár-est a tá-ble be-fóre me ín

The prés-ence óf mine én-e-mies. Thóu

A-nóint-est my héad with óil. [….rést]

 

My cúp run-eth ó-ver. Sure-ly góod-ness and mér-cy

Shall fól-low me áll the dáys of my lífe,

And Í shall dwéll in the hóuse of the Lórd

For év-….ér. [….rést….rést].

*

 

(2a) THE 23rd PSALM: Learning-grid version. Moderate level of difficulty. Repeated constructions are underlined.

 

The Lórd is….m….sh-…., I….shall not wánt.

He máketh mé….t….l….d….i….green….pástures.

He léadeth mé….b-….th….still….wáters.

Hé restóreth….m….sóul[rést].

He léadeth me….í….th….p….of…ríghteousness

Fór his náme’s….s….; y…., though I wálk

Through the váley….ó….th….shádow of déath,

I will féar….n ….é-…., f….Thóu art wíth me.

 

Thy ród and….Th….st…., th….cómfort mé.

Thou….prepárest….a….t-….b-….m….ín

The présence….ó….m….énemíes. Thóu

Anóintest my héad….w….ó….. [rést]

 

My cúp runneth….ó-….. S-….g-….and mér-cy

Shall fóllow me….á….th….d….o….my lífe,

And Í shall….dw….i….th….h….o….the Lórd

For éver. [rést….rést….rést].

*

 

(2b) THE 23rd PSALM: Learning-grid version. High level of difficulty

 

The….L….i….m….sh-…., I….sh….n….wánt.

He….m-…. m….t….l….d….i….gr….pástures.

He….l…..m….b-….th….st….wáters.

Hé….r- -….m….s [rést].

He l-….m….í….th….p….o….ríghteousness

Fó…. h….n….’s….s….; y…., th….I….wálk

Through…..v-….ó….th….sh-….o….déath,

I….w….f….n….é-…., f….Th….a….w….me.

 

Thy…. r….a….Th….st…., th….c-….mé.

Thou…. pr- – ….a….t-….b-….m….ín

The pr-….ó….m….é–….. Thóu

Anóintest….my….h….w….ó….. [rést]

 

My…c….r-….ó-….. S-….g-….a….mér-cy

Shall…. f-….m-….á….th….d….o….m….lífe,

And…. Í….sh….dw….i….th….h….o….the Lórd

For….é-…. [rést….rést….rést].

*

Meditative poetry, dinner table singing, and Mistress Quickly

Call it comfort or inspiration, memory-objects like the 23rd Psalm are traditionally classified as meditative poetry, a phrase which gets over two million hits on the internet as of 3/24/08. Since the meditative needs of humans beings vary with their states of minds, there are many anthologies available, especially in libraries, which offer comfort for the perplexed, depressed, discouraged, and disabled.

Arthur Hugh Clough’s “Say Not the Struggle Naught Availeth” was one of Winston Churchill’s favorites, as was G.A. Henley’s “Invictus.” But different poems and prose pieces are bound to comfort different people. So it’s essemtial for each learner to decide which meditative poem is a worth-the-time candidate for memorization as a meditative resource for his or her private consciousness.

MELODIC TRANSLATION: Nor should the musical setting of texts like the 23rd Psalm be neglected. Shakespeare’s “Merry Wives of English,” for example, contains a scene in which Mistress Quickly, faced with a problem, exclaims in effect, “This task will be as difficult as singing the Twenty-Third Psalm to the tune of “Greensleeves.”

Given the Renaissance practice of “melodic translation,” and given our four-beat setting, here’s why I believe that Mistress Quickly overstates her position somewhat. First, the tune to “Greensleeves” is very familiar; second, it has a relatively large number of notes to match up syllables with. Third, it offers plenty of flexibility via “melisma” (letting one syllable extend over several notes) and “subdivision” (e.g., accomodating two syllables by turning a quarter note into two eighth notes).

TO CONCLUDE: My purpose here is not to urge the reader to go into the melodic translation business right away. Textual memorization itself offers more than enough challenge, especially for men and women over fifty. But consciousness, for all of us, can be a very hungry companion, very much like a restless child muttering, “There’s nothing to do.” So for those of us with musical notes spinning around in our heads (there are many such) and “nothing to do,” the melodic-translation option will, and should, always be waiting.

*

Learning Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address by Heart

Traditionally considered, especially on Veteran’s Day, a very respectable stand-up testing challenge has always been that of memorizing and delivering Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Long enough to be challenging (264 words) and rhythmic enough to stick in our mind’s ear — the Gettysburg Address is still a worthwhile personal-best memory target, especially when set up as a line-by-line poem

The Gettysburg Address: a four-beat version

Each line is actually a “fourteener” (ballad measure) that comprises two four-beat units, i.e., ONE, TWO THREE, FOUR/ FIVE SIX SEVEN [rest]. Repeated key phrases and words are underlined. Each stressed syllable is indicated via an accent mark over its first vowel letter.

Fourscóre and séven yéars agó our fáthers bróught fórth

On this cóntinént a new nátión, concéived in líbertÿ

And dédicáted tó the próposítión thát

All mén áre creátéd équál.

 

Nów wé áre engáged in á great cívil wár,

Testing whéthér that nátion or ány nátion só concéived

Ánd só dédicáted can lóng éndúre.

We are mét ón a gréat báttlefíeld óf that wár.

 

We are hére to dédicáte a pórtion óf thát fíeld

As a fínal résting pláce for thóse who hére gáve their líves

That that nátión might líve. Ít is áltogéther fitting

And própér that wé shóuld dó thís.

 

Yét, ín a lárger sénse,

Wé cánnot dédicáte,

Wé cánnot cónsecráte.

Wé cánnót hállow thís gróund.

 

The bráve men, líving and déad, who strúggled hére have cónsecráted it

Fár abóve our póor pówer to ádd ór detráct.

The wórld will líttle nóte nor lóng remémber whát we sáy here.

Bút ít can névér forgét what théy did hére.

 

Ít ís for ús, the lívíng,

Ráthér tó be dédicátéd

To thé gréat cáuse which thóse who féll hére háve

Thus fár só nóblÿ advánced.

 

It is ráther for ús to be hére dedicáted to thé great tásk remáining befóre us,

Thát fróm these hónored déad we táke incréased devótion

To thát for whích they gáve the lást full méasure óf devótion,

That wé here híghly resólve that these déad shall nót have díed in váin,

 

Thát thís nátion únder Gód

Sháll háve a néw bírth of fréedóm,

And that góvernment óf the péople, bÿ the péople, fór the péople,

Sháll nót pérish fróm the éarth.

 

Learning Grid for the Gettysburg Address (low difficulty)

 

Fourscóre and…. s-…. y…. a-…. o…. fathers bróught fórth

On this c–…. a…. n…. n-…., concéived in líbertÿ

And dédicáted t… th…. próposítión thát

All men…. á…. c–…. équál.

 

Nów wé áre…. e-…. i…. á great cívil wár,

Testing whéthér….. th…. n-…. o…. á-…. nátion só concéived

Ánd só d- – – …. can lóng éndúre.

We are mét…. o… a…. gr…. báttlefíeld óf that wár.

 

We are hére…. t…. d- – -…. a…. p-…. óf thát fíeld

As a fínal r-…. pl… f…. th…. who hére gáve their líves

That that n-…. m…. l…… Ít is áltogéther fitting

And própér th…. w…. shóuld dó thís.

 

Yét, ín a l-…. sénse,

Wé c-…. dédicáte,

Wé c-…. cónsecráte.

Wé c-…. h- thís gróund.

 

The brave men…., l-…. a…. d,…. wh…. str-…. here…. have cónsecráted it

Fár above our…. p…. p-…. t…. ádd ó detráct.

The world will…. l-…. n…. n…. l…. re- – – what. we say here.

Bút ít can…. n-…. f-…. wh…. they. did. hére.

Ít ís f… ú…., t…. lívíng,

Ráthér t…. b…. dédicátéd

To that great. c…. wh…. th…. wh…. fell. here. háve

Thus far…. s…. n-…. advánced.

 

It is rather for…. ú…. t…. b…. h…. d- – -…. t…. th…. great task remaining before us,

Thát from….th…. h-…. d…. w…. take increased devótion

To that for which…. wh…. th…. g…. th…. l…. f…. measure of devótion,

That we here highly…. r-…. th…. th…. d…. sh…. n…. have died in váin,

 

Thát th…. n-…. ú- Gód

Sháll háve a…. n…. bírth of fréedóm,

And that góvernment óf…. th… p-…., b…. th…. p-, for the péople,

Sháll nót p-…. fr….the éarth.

 

Learning Grid for the Gettysburg Address (Higher Difficulty

 

Fourscóre…. a…. s-…. y…. a-…. o…. f-…. br…. fórth

On th…. c- -…. a…. n…. n-…., c-….i…. líbertÿ

And d- – -….t… th…. pr- – – thát

All m…. á…. c- -…. équál.

 

Nów w…. á…. e-…. i…. á…. gr…. c-…. wár,

Testing wh-…. th…. n-…. o…. á-…. n-…. s…. concéived

Ánd s….d- – – …. c…. l…. éndúre.

We a…. mét…. o… a…. gr…. b– o…. th…. wár.

 

We a….hére…. t…. d- – -…. a…. p-…. ó…. th…. fíeld

As a f-…. r-…. pl… f…. th…. wh…. h…. g…. th…. líves

That th…. n-…. m…. l…… Í…. i….á- – -…. fitting

And p-…. th…. w…. sh…. d…. thís.

 

Yét, í…. a….l-…. sénse,

Wé c-…. dédicáte,

Wé c-…. cónsecráte.

Wé c-…. h- …. thís gróund.

 

The bráve m…., l-…. a…. d,…. wh…. str-…. h…. h…. cónsecráted it

Fár a-…. o…. p…. p-…. t…. á…. ór detráct.

The wórld w…. l-…. n…. n…. l…. re- – – w…. w…. s…. here.

Bút ít c…. n-…. f-…. wh…. th…. did hére.

 

Ít ís f… ú…., the lívíng,

Ráthér t…. b…. dédicátéd

To t…. gr…. c…. wh…. th…. wh…. f…. h…. háve

Thus f…. s…. n-…. advánced.

 

It i…. r-…. f…. ú…. t…. b…. h…. d- – -…. t…. th…. gr…. t…. r- -…. be-…. us,

Thát fr…. th…. h-…. d…. w…. t…. in-…. devótion

To th…. f…. wh…. th…. g…. th…. l…. f…. m…. ó…. devótion,

That w…. h…. h-…. r-…. th…. th…. d…. sh…. n…. h…. d…. i…. váin,

 

Thát th…. n-…. ú-…. Gód

Sháll h…. a…. n…. b…. o…. fréedóm,

And th…. g- -…. ó…. th… p-…., b…. th…. p-, f…. th…. péople,

Sháll n…. p-…. fr….th…. éarth.

TO CONCLUDE. . . . As we’ve seen our system is purely a personal-best arrangement. You choose your targets, you choose your levels of time and concentration, you choose which extra activities (e,g., melodic translation), and you choose how far to go and how much fun to have. Some of that fun might in time actually involve group-aerobics activity. But for practical purposes your own mind will probably be company enough. Certainly it’s quite proper these days for us to talk or sing to ourselves as long as no one catches us doing it.

*

 

Learning the Declaration of Independence by Heart

 

A nation’s past lives on in its patriotic texts. To abandon or change them, as G.K. Chesterton put it, is to disenfranchise those who created them. Kept alive, though, their original fervor and energy can drive us toward our national future far more effectively and cohesively than misguided attempts by those in power to rewrite them, and thus reinvent our national past.

As a patriotic memorization target, though, the complete Declaration of Independence, which includes a lengthy list of grievances against George III, is much too long. So with echoes of 1776 thundering in our ears each Fourth of July, along with Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever,” we clearly need a recitation-friendly version of the Declaration — one that will stand tall on the speaker’s platform, right there beside the Star Spangled Banner (all four verses) and the Gettysburg Address.

This 242-word version of the Declaration presents its opening section (“When in the Course. . . .”) and then its stirring conclusion, which begins, “We, therefore, the Representatives. . . .” By way of providing a memory-friendly format, what’s here is set up poem-style in 10 four-line stanzas, four stressed syllables to each line, with repeated key words underlined as structural indicators. Later on we’ll see how each personal-best learner can transcribe each stanza in abbreviated “crossword-style” form for fast, visually retentive memorization.

A four-beat stanza format, key words underlined, original capitalization, stressed syllables indicated with accent marks — there’s nothing fancy about these mnemonic aids. But they work. And they’re well worth it in bringing this national treasure back into our lives, especially for personal-best learners who want to improve their memory power and public speaking confidence.

 

The Declaration of Independence in Stanza Format (first stage)

 

The original capitalization has been retained, key words have been underlined,

 

(1) Whén in the Cóurse of Húman Evénts

it becómes necessáry fór one Péople

tó dissólve the Pólitical Bónds

which háve connécted thém with anóther,

 

(2) and to assúme amóng the Pówers of the Éarth

the séparate and équal Státion to whích

the Láws of Náture and of Náture’s Gód

entítle thém, a décent Respéct

 

(3) to the Opínions óf Mankínd requíres

that they shóuld decláre the cáuses whích

impél them tó the Séparátion.

We hóld these Trúths to bé self-évident:

 

(4) that áll Men áre creáted équal,

that théy are endówed by théir Creátor

with cértain unálienáble Ríghts,

thát amóng these are Lífe, Líbertÿ,

 

(5) and the Pursúit of Háppiness — Thát to secúre

these Ríghts, Governménts are ínstitúted

amóng men, deríving théir just Pówers

fróm the consént of the Góvérned,

 

(6) that whenéver ány Fórm of Góvernment

becómes destrúctive óf these Énds,

it is the Ríght of the Péoplé

to álter ór abólish ít. . . .

*****

 

(7) We thérefore the Répreséntatíves

of the uníted Státes of Américá,

in Géneral Cóngress Assémbled.

appéaling tó the Súpreme Júdge

 

(8) of the Wórld for the Réctitúde

of óur Inténtions, dó, in the Náme,

and bÿ Authóritÿ of the góod

Péople óf these Cóloníes,

 

(9) sólemnly Públish ánd Decláre

that thése Uníted Cóloníes

áre and óf right óught to bé

Frée and Índepéndent Státes.

*****

(10) — And fór the suppórt of this Déclarátion with

a fírm Relíance on the Protéction of divine Próvidence,

we mútually plédge to each óther our Líves,

our Fórtunes, ánd our sácred Hónor.

 

COMMENT. . . . The mind’s ear, the body’s action, and memory power — from the Alphabet Song up to the marching chants of military training, these have always been our basic learning partners. So our first mnemonic step is to read the Declaration aloud, emphasizing the stressed-marked syllables and counting time on our fingers (call it “sing-song” if you wish, but it always works as a first step).

After our read-aloud step, all that’s needed is to bring our mind’s eye into action by transcribing our target in a snapshot format, retaining the first and last word of each line, but using initial letters for the rest and representing extra syllables with hyphens. Here’s how our first stanza looks via a learning-grid version. Most students achieve at least 70% mnemonic accuracy after writing down all ten stanzas in this abbreviated manner (much faster than ordinary script), and then coming back a few minutes later on for a first-stage retentiveness trial run.

Learning Grid Version of the Declaration of Independence (1st stage)

(1) Whén in…. th…. C…. o…. Human Evénts

it becomes…. n- – -…. f…. one Péople

to dissolve…. th…. Political Bónds

which have… c- -…. th…. with anóther,

 

(2) and to assúme a-…. th…. Pówers of the Éarth

the séparate…. a…. é-…. Státion to whích

the Láws of N- …. a…. o…. Náture’s Gód

entítle th…., a…. décent Respéct

 

(3) to the Opínions ó…. M-…. requíres

that they sh…. d-…. th…. cáuses whích

impél th…. t…. th…. Séparátion.

We hóld these Tr…. t…. b…. self-évident:

 

(4) that áll M…. á…. cr- -équal,

that théy a…. en-…. b…. théir Creátor

with cértain u – – – – Ríghts,H

thát a-…. th…. a…. Lífe, Líbertÿ,

 

(5) and the P-…. o…. H- -…. — Thát to secúre

these R…., G- -…. are ínstitúted

amóng men, d- -…. th…. just Pówers

fróm the c-…. o…. th…. Góvérned,

 

(6) that whenéver á-…. F…. of Góvernment

becómes d- -…. ó…. these Énds,

it is the R…. o…. th…. Péoplé

to álter ó…. a- – ít. . . .

*****

 

(7) We th-…. th…. Répreséntatíves

of the u- – St…. o…. Américá,

in G- -….. C- Assémbled.

appéaling t…. th…. Súpreme Júdge

 

(8) of the W…. f…. th…. Réctitúde

of óur Inténtions, d…., i…. th…. Náme,

and bÿ A- – – o…. th…. góod

Péople ó…. th…. Cóloníes,

 

(9) sólemnly P-…. á…. Decláre

that th…. U- -…. Cóloníes

áre and ó…. r…. ó…. to bé

Frée a…. Í- – -…. Státes.

*****

(10) — And fór the s-…. o…. th…. Déclarátion with

a fírm Relíance o…. th…. Pr–…. o…. divine Próvidence,

we mútually pl…. t…. e…. óther our Líves,

our Fórtunes, á…. o…. sácred Hónor.

 

COMMENT. . . . You’ll probably discover that first-stage self-testing with a learning grid is like a mini-course in speed reading. This is to say that certain abbreviations (o…., t…., th…., a…., etc.) turn up again and again and again, enough so that you recognize them very quickly as what linguists call “connecting” words or “function” words. Also, as you’ve probably also noticed, these high frequency connecting words often signal what’s coming, e.g., a noun after “th….” (the), a noun phrase after “a….” (a). It’s previous knowledge like this that helps us to read a page (400 words a minute) and comprehend far more quickly can we can listen to a spoken sequence (roughly 110 words a minute).

 

Learning Grid Version of the Declaration of Independence (2nd Stage)

 

(1) Whén i…. th…. C…. o…. H-…. Evénts

it b-…. n- – -…. f…. o…. Péople

to d-…. th…. P- – -…. Bónds

which h… c- -…. th…. w…. anóther,

 

(2) and t…. a-….a-…. th…. P-…. o…. th….Éarth

the s-.-…. a…. é-…. S-…. t…. whích

the L…. o…. N- …. a…. o…. N-‘s Gód

entítle th…., a…. d-…. Respéct

 

(3) to th…. O- -…. ó…. M-…. requíres

that th…. sh…. d-…. th…. c-…. whích

impél th…. t…. th…. Séparátion.

We h…. th…. Tr…. t…. b…. self-évident:

 

(4) that á…. M…. á…. cr- -équal,

that th…. a…. en-…. b…. th…. Creátor

with c-…. u – – – – Ríghts,H

thát a-…. th…. a…. Lífe, Líbertÿ,

 

(5) and th…. P-…. o…. H- -…. — Th…. t…. secúre

these R…., G- -…. are ínstitúted

amóng m…., d- -…. th…. j…. Pówers

fróm th…. c-…. o…. th…. Góvérned,

 

(6) that wh- -…. á-…. F…. o…. Góvernment

becómes d- -…. ó…. th…. Énds,

it i…. th…. R…. o…. th…. Péoplé

to á-…. ó…. a- – ít. . . .

*****

 

(7) We th-…. th…. Répreséntatíves

of th…. u- – St…. o…. Américá,

in G- -….. C- Assémbled.

a- -…. t…. th…. Súpreme Júdge

 

(8) of th…. W…. f…. th…. Réctitúde

of óur Inténtions, d…., i…. th…. Náme,

and b…. A- – – o…. th…. góod

Péople ó…. th…. Cóloníes,

 

(9) sólemnly P-…. á…. Decláre

that th…. U- -…. Cóloníes

áre a…. ó…. r…. ó…. to bé

Frée a…. Í- – -…. Státes.

*****

(10) — And f…. th…. s-…. o…. th…. D- – – with

a f…. R- -…. o…. th…. Pr–…. o…. d-…. Próvidence,

we m- -…. pl…. t…. e…. ó-…. o…. Líves,

our F-…., á…. o…. s-…. Hónor.

*

 

COMMENT. . . . As with our version of the Gettysburg Address, the above 10-stanza rhythmic version gives you all that’s needed to produce your own melodic translation. You could your hand at singing it to the tune of “Stars and Stripes Forever,” where it fits amazingly well, enough so to convince me that Souza must have had the Declaration of Independence in his mind’s ear when he composed Stars and Stripes — completely in his head, it’s been said.

 

TO CONCLUDE. . . . For learners, the Declaration of Independence, even in shortened form, is well worth mastering, including its puzzles. What it meant, what it means today, what it might mean tomorrow — questions like these are bound to come into our thoughts after we’ve taken personal in-the-mind possession of a patriotic text.

Just like a good friend or a moving prayer, a patriotic text can, and should, keep its own identity unchanged. Even better, uniquely so, it’s also there for us in our own minds whenever we need serious company.

*

(11) Learning the Bill of Rights by Heart

 

It’s no fun arguing with Libertarians. Academics may be more logical; but Libertarians hit back by quoting accurately and fully from our nation’s Bill of Rights, pulling government into their corner even when they’re opposed to it. As a matter of self defense, then, the rest of us, not just schoolchildren, should learn this particular patriotic text by heart.

By way of saving time, mastering the Bill of Rights should begin by treating it as rhythmic poetry. This is, after all, the way in most of us recite the Pledge of Allegiance in unison: “I PLEDGE al-LEG-iance TO the FLAG//. . . . of the u-NIT-ed STATES of a-MER-i-CA//. . . . and TO the re-PUB-lic for WHICH it STANDS//. . . . one NA-tion U-nder GOD//. . . . IN-div-IS-i-BLE//. . . . with LIB-er-TY and JUST-ice for ALL.//”

Written out like this, it’s clear the Pledge has a four-beat rhythm format (with an occasional empty fourth beat). As a mnemonic timesaver, we’ll present the Bill of Rights in four-line stanzas with four strong beats to each line, using accent marks over the first vowel of each stressed syllable, along with hyphens to represent extra syllables. For structural emphasis, we’ll also underline words like right and people that get repeated again and again. In words that have more than one syllable, incidentally, our accent marks correspond to those in a dictionary’s phonetic transcription.

As an additional memorization aid, the following stanzaic version includes conventional subject headings in brackets, e.g., “freedom of religion and speech.” Since it’s relatively long (474) words, we’ll present it in SIX SEPARATE PARTS, each of which contains a text and two learning grid versions, the second more challenging than the first. This “divide and conquer” part-by-part approach will also work with other lengthy challenges, especially if each subunit makes sense on its own.

 

The Bill of Rights in 18 Four-Line Stanzas

[1st Amendment:Freedom of Religion and Speech]

I) Cóngress shall máke no láw respécting

an estáblishmént of relígion, ór

prohíbiting the frée exercíse thereóf;

ór abrídging the fréedom of spéech,

 

ór of the préss, or the ríght of the péople

péaceably tó assémble, ánd

tó petítion the góvernmént

fór a redréss of gríevancés

 

[Religion and Speech – Grid]

Ia) Congress….sh…. m…. n…. l…. respecting

an…. e—…. o…. r–, or

prohibiting…. th…. fr… e–…. thereof,

or…. a-…. th…. fr-…. o…. speech.

 

ór of the préss, o…. th…. right o…. th…. péople

péaceably t…. a-…., ánd

tó petítion th…. góvernmént

fór a r-…. o…. gríevancés

***

 

[2nd Amendement: Right to Bear Arms]

A wéll reguláted Milítia, béing

nécessáry to the secúrity óf

a frée State, the ríght of the péople to kéep

ánd bear Árms, shall nót be infrínged.

 

[Right to Bear Arms – Grid]]

II) A wéll r- – – …. Milítia béing

nécessáry t…. th…. secúrity óf

a frée State, the r…. o…. th…. péople to kéep

ánd bear Árms, sh…. n…. b…. infrínged.

***

 

[3rd Amendment: Quatering Soliders]

No Sóldier shall, in tíme of péace

be quártered in ány hóuse withóut

the consént of the Ówner, nor in tíme of wár,

but in a mánner to bé prescríbed by láw.

 

[Quartering Soldiers – Grid]

No Sóldier sh…., i t…. of péace

be quártered i…. á-…. hóuse withóut

the consent o…. th…. O-…., nor in time of war,

but in a mánner t…. b…. pr-…. by láw.

***

 

[4th Amendment: Unreasonable Search and Seizure]

The ríght of the péople to bé secúre

in their pérsons, hóuses, pápers, and éffects,

agáinst unréasonable séarches and séizures

shall nót be víolated, and no Wárrant shall íssue,

 

but upon próbable cause, suppórted by Óath

or áffirmátion, and partícularlÿ

descríbing the pláces tó be séarched,

and the pérsons or thíngs to be séized.

 

[Unreasonable Search and Seizure Grid]]

The ríght o…. th…. p-…. to bé secúre

in their pérsons, h-…., p- …., and éffects,

agáinst unréasonable s…. a…. séizures

shall nót be víolated, a…. n…. W- …. shall íssue,

 

but u-…. pr- – …. c…., s- -…. b…. Óath

or á- – -,…. a…. partícularlÿ

descríbing th…. pl…. t…. b…. séarched,

and th…. p-…. o…. th…. t…. b…. séized.

 

[5th Amendment: Due Process]

No pérson sháll be héld to ánswer

for a cápital, or ótherwise ínfamous críme,

unless ón a preséntment ór indíctment

óf a grand júry, excépt in cáses

 

arísing in the lánd or nával fórces,

or ín the Milítia, whén in áctual

sérvice in tíme of Wár or public dánger;

nor sháll any pérson be súbject fór

 

the sáme offénse to be twíce put in jéopardy

of lífe or límb; nor shall ány be compélled

in ány críminal cáse to be a wítness

agáinst himsélf, nor bé depríved

 

óf life, líberty, ór propertÿ

withóut due prócess of láw; nor shall prívate

próperty be táken for públic úse

withóut júst cómpensátion.

 

[Due Process: Grid]

No pérson sh…. b…. h…. to ánswer

for a c- -…., o…. ó- – …..ínfamous críme,

unless ón a pr- -…. ó…. indíctment

óf a grand j-…., e-…. in cáses

 

arísing i…. th…. l…. or nával fórces,

or ín th… M- -, wh…. in áctual

sérvice in t – …. o…. W…. or public dánger;

nor sháll a-…. p-…. b…. súbject fór

 

the sáme offénse t…. b…. tw…. put in jéopardy

of lífe or límb; n…. sh á-…. be compélled

in ány cr…. c…. t…. be a wítness

agáinst h-…., n…. b…. depríved

 

óf life, l- -…., ó…. propertÿ

withóut due pr-…. o…. l….; nor shall prívate

próperty b…. t-…. f…. públic úse

withóut j…. cómpensátion.

***

 

[6th Amendment: Speedy and Public Trial]

VI) In all críminal prósecútions, the accúsed

shall enjóy the ríght to a spéedy and públic

tríal, by án impártial júry

of the státe and dístrict whereín the críme

 

shall have béen commítted, which dístrict sháll

have been préviously áscertáined by láw;

and to bé infórmed of the náture and cáuse

of the áccusátion; to bé confrónted

 

with the wítnessés agáinst him; to háve

compúlsory prócess fór obtáining

wítnesses ín his fávor, and tó have

the Assístance of Cóunsel fór his defénse.

 

PART FOUR b-version

[Speedy and Public Trial]

VI) In all críminal pr- – -,…. th…. accúsed

shall enjóy the r…. t…. a…. sp-…. and públic

tríal, by á….i- -…. júry

of the státe a…. d-…. wh-….the críme

 

shall have b…. c- -…., wh…. dístrict sháll

have b…. pr- -…. áscertáined by láw;

and to bé in-…. o…. th…. náture and cáuse

of the á- – -….; t…. b…. confrónted

 

with the w- -…. a-…. him; to háve

compúlsory p-…. f…. obtáining

wítnesses í…. h…. f-…., and tó have

the Assístance o…. C-…. f…. his defénse

 

[Due Process: Grid]

VI) In a…. cr…. pr- – -,…. th…. accúsed

shall e-…. th…. r…. t…. a…. sp-…. and públic

tríal, b….. á….i- -…. júry

of th…. st…. a…. d-…. wh-….th…. críme

 

shall h…. b…. c- -…., wh…. d-…. sháll

have b…. pr- -…. á- -…. b…. láw;

and t…. b…. in-…. o…. th…. n-…. a…. cáuse

of th…. á- – -….; t…. b…. confrónted

 

with th…. w- -…. a-…. h….; t…. háve

compúlsory p-…. f…. obtáining

wítnesses í…. h…. f-…., a…. t…. have

the A- -…. o… C-…. f…. his defénse

***

 

[7th Amendment: Facts Tried by Jury]

In Súits at cómmon law, whére the válue

in cóntrovérsy sháll excéed

twenty dóllars, the ríght of tríal by júry

shall bé presérved, and nó fact tríed

 

by a júry, shall be ótherwise exámined

in ány Cóurt of the Únited Státes

thán accórding tó the rúles

óf the cómmon láw.

 

[Facts Tried by Jury – Grid}

In Súits at c-…. l…., wh…. the válue

in c- – -…. sh…. excéed

twenty dóllars, th…. r…. o…. tríal by júry

shall b…. pr-…., a…. nó fact tríed

 

by a júry, sh…. b…. ó- -…. exámined

in ány C…. o…. th…. Únited Státes

thán a- -…. t… th… rúles

óf th…. c…. láw.

***

 

[8th Amendment: Cruel and Unusual Punishments]

Excéssive báil shall not bé requíred

nór excéssive fínes impósed,

or crúel and unúsual

púnishménts bé inflícted.

 

[Cruel and Unusual Punishments – Grid]

VIII) Excéssive b…. sh…. n…. bé requíred

nór e- -…. f…. impósed,

or cr…. a…. unúsual

púnishménts b…. inflícted.

***

 

[9th Amendment: Rights Retained by the People]

The enúmerátion in the Cónstitútion

of cértain ríghts, shall not bé constrúed

to denÿ or dispárage óthers retáined

bÿ the péople.

 

[Rights Retained by the People – Grid]

The enúmerátion i…. th…. Cónstitútion

of cértain r…., sh…. n…. bé constrúed

to denÿ or d- -…. ó-…. retáined

bÿ th…. péople.

***

 

[10th Amendment Powers Reserved to States or People]

X) The pówers nót delegáted tó

the Uníted Státes by the Cónstitútion,

nor prohíbited bÿ it tó the Státes

are resérved to the Státes, or tó the péople.

 

[Powers Reserved to States or People – Grid]

X) The p-…. n…. delegáted tó

the U- -…. St…. b…. the Cónstitútion,

nor pr- -…. b…. i…. tó the Státes

are resérved t…. th…. St…., or tó the péople.
*

Monuments and Modernity

The Gettysburg Address may live in our hearts, but the Bill of Rights lives in every lawyer’s office, ready for use either a club or a shield in tomorrow’s disputes. The Constitution can be amended, of course and the amendments themselves can be repealed, as happened to the 18th (prohibition of “intoxicating liquors”). But until that happens, the Bill of Rights stands as the law of the land with every word and phrase open to interpretation, debate, and final judgment in a maze of jurisdictions.

There’s no doubt that memorizing the Bill of Rights represents a daunting challenge. But as set forth here, it can be approached Right by Right and part by part. One reason for emphasizing a three-stanza format is that it invites melodic translation into a musical target with two melodies, usually called the a-strain and the b-strain. “Greensleeves (aabb) is one of these, and so is “Alley Cat” (aab). Practically considered, each of our three-stanza groups fits this pattern perfectly, and it can be stretched out to aabb to fit our four-stanza group (the Fifth Amendment, “due process”), and cut back to aa to fit our closing two-stanza group.

 

TO CONCLUDE: As far as subconscious knowledge goes, many of the words and phrases in the Bill of Rights are already familiar to us, along with turning up again and again in the news and in conversation. Balanced against the Declaration of Independence, I feel this familiarity feature compensates for its length. As opposed to formal-pattern poetry, though, there’s a good chance that some of the Bill of Rights, once learned, will fade from one’s memory rather quickly.

Overall I feel that learning the Bill of Rights by heart is well worth the effort for older learners. It’s a significant document that appears, along with the Gettysburg Address, along in most almanacs, e.g., Time Almanac 2007. As a heavy-lifting effort the achievement of mastering it is a marvelous tonic for one’s self esteem. Best of all, a half hour’s review will bring it back to one’s conscious control for contemplation and citation in discussions.

If older Americans want to set a good example to their families, mastering the Bill of Rights will pay rich dividends for years and years.

*

A FINAL WORD. . . . As might be inferred I’ve tried what’s here out somewhat cautiously with my grandchildren, who as a group describe me as “in the encouragement business, not the advice business.” And I can honestly say the Gettysburg Address is a heavy duty winner with both teachers and students. Beyond that I want to identify myself as subscribing to the motto that “concentration trumps talent seven days out of the week and twice on Sundays.”

 

To come right out with it, I’ve stacked the deck heavily on this one, including the fact that the Bill of Rights fits the tune to “Alley Cat” for those who want to tease it into performance readiness. Just like an actor, any youngster who works up one of these in performance-acceptable standards will be able to coast on his or her achievement for years and years — far more than bragging about past achievements (just like President Reagan reciting “The Creation of Sam Magee”. Primitive appeal plus honest work — what more can any performer ask?

***************

TO CONCLUDE. . . . I want to thank my colleagues at EDUCATION VIEWS, NONPARTISAN EDUCATION REVIEW, and California State University, Northridge, along with my large extended family, especially Jason Oliphant, who has kindly tried out some of what’s here in his classes. Also my dear wife Jane, whose good taste and prose style has protected me from public scorn for many, many years.

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