Creating a Call to the Community

War in American Literature is a year-long English department elective for Whitfield juniors. Students explore America’s centuries-long, complicated relationship with its military history and the portrayal of war and soldiers through novels, essays, articles, poetry, and film.

For their recent Call to Arms speech assignment, students engaged in analysis of three speeches by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Patrick Henry, then composed their own ‘call to arms’ to invite positive change in the Whitfield community, facilities, or curriculum. The speeches required that students incorporate elements of classical rhetoric used by the Founding Fathers. Students will deliver their speeches to an audience of their peers.

Examples of calls to action from the students’ speeches include:

  • Re-evaluate the configuration of classrooms and the role of physical comfort in learning.
  • Call upon Whitfield to remove all internet filters in the name of academic freedom.
  • Ask for permanent quiet study spaces.
  • Rededicate our efforts to environmental preservation through recycling.
  • Prepare now for a more civil discussion of the 2020 elections.

Before studying speeches from the American Revolutionary War period, students read from the Iliad and considered the roots of Homeric heroism, pubic speaking, and classical rhetoric in Ancient Greece. They examined the lasting effect of these in Revolutionary War speeches as well as in military recruitment art from World Wars I and II.

Faculty member Dr. Larry Hays identified several objectives with the Call to Arms Speech assignment. “I want my students to become better users of the English language, to develop an appreciation for the effect of language on people whether it is written or spoken, and to learn about and practice civil discourse,” said Dr. Hays.

Teaching speeches is a way to improve writing according to Dr. Hays. “When students write something that will be read aloud, they are more thoughtful about audience and purpose. They can see more clearly how the progression of their ideas needs to make sense to the listener who can’t go back and re-read a text.”

In addition to strengthening writing and presentation skills, the assignment complements Whitfield’s commitment to character education.

“This assignment is an avenue for our Habits of Mind & Heart,” said Dr. Hays. “To be a Whitfield citizen is to act in the best interest of the community. To have the courage to act, to have the courage to motivate others to act, and to have the tools to communicate important ideas are skills our graduates will need no matter what profession they pursue,” said Dr. Hays.