True patriotism requires practice

17 years ago

To the editor:
It has now been a week since I saw my students final works. The second group of plays and players was a little more polished for my own epicurean tastes. Alas, the last group of students were still at the reading from the script stage. “Much Ado About Nothing”, is not really conducive to being read as there is a large element of visual humor within. Still the students managed to put on a pretty reasonable show and I was not checking on theatrical values so much as I was trying to listen to them. The essence of the class was to speak in English. It worked.
    Teachers everywhere will tell students that there is no easy way to learn some things. You need to practice, practice, and practice. The problem faced by students is to practice without realizing that one is practicing. That gets boring. Just ask the legions of parents who send their youngster to piano lessons.
Spoken English only improves as you use it. Arithmetic skills only improve if you use them. Did you ever watch a good store clerk add up your bill for a few items? As you mind and unvoiced language adjust to this new information your speed increases. We know from research being done around the world that some forms of mental exercise help keep people engaged with the world around them. For many vintage adults this means working those crossword puzzles, talking to others, and reading.
It was a risk to have my students try to do a complete Shakespeare play. After crossing the threshold of “We have not done this before”, my students soon realized that if they practiced their language skills for the play they found that the ability to speak more clearly increased. The key factor in this matter: Rehearsal! Demanding that the performance of the play be a final exam, students had to learn how the language sounded and they could only do this by interacting with others. Chinese students are accustomed to working in groups. However, the competitive nature of their education often results in multiple groups of one as each student jockeys for a better grade. A play does not allow too much of this. In order for one to succeed, one must learn to work with others. Other people depend on the cue lines just as the individual performer does. This means that while there is something of an individual nature for a player, there is
also the realization that you must bring others together to help pull the complete play together. Former Shipmates learned this lesson early. It is one which many companies spend millions of dollars trying to instill. They do so because they realize that it is a risk worth taking.
It is now the height of summer here. The air is muggy, soupy, and quick to turn into a thunderstorm. The problem is so much vegetation is here in the city that we just can not escape plant sweat! Trees are everywhere. Trees here are much more ferocious than their wild cousins back home. That is why you will see many tied to concrete anchor posts.
A popular tree is the Tulip Poplar. This tree is fast growing, provides thick leafed canopies of brilliant green to counter the gray and drab of concrete. Every few meters, (I believe it is five meters between each tree) a tree is planted. An army of tree workers trim away the excess growth when it threatens overhead wires and also shapes the trees to form massive green tunnels to cool the streets below. Empty space left to natures own sculpting is rare here.
I took a tour of one forest management area and it had the look of a factory with every tree regulated to place and position. Trees are constantly being transplanted. Factories, schools and apartment complexes that have open space are soon filled with batches of trees. They are parked until there is a need for a tree. Then, one by one, they are transplanted into their own niche in the gray landscape. There are spots where some wildness occurs and the resulting tangle is impressive. In this hot summer sun, the trees are much like my students they practice growing new leaves and branches. Entertaining to watch.
It is now approaching the Fourth of July. Unlike the gaudy dressing of bunting, banners and circulars with exaggerated Stars and Stripes appearing on every doorstep; here, there is little understanding of the idea of the holiday in this country. Even on their own national day, October 1st, there is little of the sideshow that patriotism has become. You will not find a lot of flags lining the streets; geezers festooned with vulgar hats and pins, sporting something with the Red, White, and Blue; and the insincere spouting of the words of our founders. Oh there is plenty of that here, usually in the political meetings of the party. But the average person just tries to make it through the day a little wiser, richer, and alive.
Patriotism is much like the plays I made my students practice. It needs practice. It needs people of clear conscience who are dedicated to hallowing the ground of the past while honoring the potential of the future. And like so many trees that are here, true patriotism is a wild, beautiful thing to witness. It can not be restrained and ordered. It must come from the heart. It must be practiced without visibly showing its practice. It is that simple effort to vote; to speak out; to help your neighbor, even though he makes you mad; to make this world a better place before we leave. It takes practice. And like the trees, it will spread its branches and give us a cool respite from the heat of the day.

Orpheus Allison