Two day week! Woo hoo. The timing worked out better this year, and I finished The Giver last week (no Jeopardy, though), so I have two days for “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street.” Perfect.
For these two days, we’re going to work on listening skills. Today, we didn’t even use paper. Even seventh graders appreciate the irony of a whole period IN ENGLISH, without writing.
I always start this play by discussing a few things:
1. What makes people afraid. We start with death (and spiders) and come around to the idea that it’s really the unknown that most people fear.
“If someone came back from the dead, and said, ‘Hey, it’s pretty cool floating around on a cloud, riffing on your harp all day,’ I don’t think anybody would be afraid of death. ”
2. What fear does to you. It makes you dumb, especially when you’re in a group. We talk about Franklin Roosevelt’s famous line about nothing to fear but fear itself, and after a quick summary of the Great Depression (it’s convenient, if painful, that we’re reliving certain aspects of that currently; this year’s bunch seemed to grasp the ideas better), I ask them,
“How many of you have made a dumb decision because you were scared?”
Every hand goes up.
“And what do you get when you have people in a group who are are scared?
“A mosh pit?”
“Close enough. A mob.”
3. Scapegoats. They love to either vent about how often they’ve been the scapegoat for an older sibling, or brag about how often they have passed blame unto a younger sibling. All of them have been at both ends, and none of them see any contradiction. We talk about Hitler scapegoating the Jews (and others). Soon we will talk about witch hunts.
4. Idiosyncrasies. Oh they love to talk about this one. After we get past the word itself (“No, it has nothing to do with being an idiot”) and its dictionary definition, I start giving examples by asking questions…
“How many of you – I always have a few every year, in every class – are one of those people who…makes your bed right before you get into it?”
At least four or five (sheepish) hands go up. The rest are flabbergasted. “What? Why? What the?”
(Remember, I’m leading them into “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street.) “I knew it. There’s always a few. You people are mighty strange. Well, I’m guessing we also have a few of you who…well, how many of you are the kind who… how many of you, when you eat cereal, put the milk in first, and then the cereal?” A few more hands. This one, most of them can’t cope with. I knew someone way back when, who got mad after he had poured an insufficient amount of milk on his cereal, and the milk ran out. Cereal ruined; wet, but not wet enough. Ever after, he always poured the milk in first. Most of the kids think this is just weird, though.
“I knew it. You people are almost as weird as the night-time bed-makers.”
“But that’s how I was taught!”
“How many of you have a lucky pair of socks or something?” Lots of hands.
“I have some lucky purple und-”
“That’ll do. That’s more like a superstition, but, you’re getting the idea.”
So we do a lot of sharing of idiosyncrasies. (BTW: Wade Boggs used to have to eat chicken before every game. We talk about how a lot of professional athletes have idiosyncrasies and superstitions.) Then I ask them,
“What if all we knew about you were your idiosyncrasies? What if you were judged only by your -isms? Like you people who put the milk in first – you’re just sick. And don’t get me started on you people who have to tap your toothbrush three times. And you night-time bed-makers…”
“Hey! Wait! Wha?
“See what I mean? We all have -isms or idiosyncrasies, and-”
“We’re all weird!” Proudly.
(To be continued…Tomorrow: Witch Hunts!)