[E]qual parts entertainer, shaman, motivational speaker and, as he liked to say, “holy fool.”
Brother Blue would think it sacrilegious foolishness for my 6th graders to sit quietly for his obituary, so we had some fun.
It taught us the word idiosyncratic, which I defined as a polite way of saying strange. I instructed them to imagine they were at a fancy party: “Go around and introduce yourselves to each other in an idiosyncratic way.” I’ll leave you to imagine what ensued.
His obituary also taught us persona, so students invented their own. My favorite was Too Face, created by a boy with a less than enthusiastic attitude to school. While invisibly munching on snacks and playing video games, his persona is outwardly scholarly.
We also wrote epitaphs for Brother Blue. This one seemed about right to me: “A Very Original Man.”
And now my teacher persona will make these observations about Brother Blue’s obituary:
- During World War II, Mr. Hill was in the Army, where he served in the European and Pacific theaters… For an example of why background knowledge is important for reading comprehension, consider how confusing this use of theater can be in a performer’s obituary.
- It mentioned his brother was mentally retarded, thus providing the opportunity for my speech “Retarded does not mean stupid, and retard should never be used as an insult.” Don’t like the year to go out without delivering that one.
- You see words pop up again and again in obituaries, and not necessarily the ones you’d expect. For example, both Brother Blue and Mark Fidrych were “gangly.” (Gangly is what we in the business call a Tier 3 word.)
- Persona is one of those words that’s learned so much more easily by example than by definition (e.g. Superman: Clark Kent; Marshall Mathers: Slim Shady; etc). I noticed the same thing when we read Samantha Sadd’s obituary: rarely have I seen a roomful of blanker faces than when I defined what an allegorical name was; rarely have I seen so rapid a shift to understanding than when I added, “You know, like: Hope. Destiny. April. Hunter. Rose…”
- In an obit full of good sentences, this was my favorite: His thesis, on prison storytelling, was performed with a 25-piece jazz orchestra.