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June 11, 2004
B. J. Frazer teaches empathy to Ronald Reagan: " not bad training for someone who goes into politics "

Ronald Reagan's funeral is today. Here's an intriguing educational titbit from his Autobiography:

Another newcomer in Dixon that year was a new English teacher, B. J. Frazer, a small man with spectacles almost as thick as mine who taught me things about acting that stayed with me for the rest of my life.

Our English teachers until then had graded student essays solely for spelling and grammar, without any consideration for their content. B. J. Frazer announced he was going to base his grades in part on the originality of our essays. That prodded me to be imaginative with my essays; before long he was asking me to read some of my essays to the class, and when I started getting a few laughs, I began writing them with the intention of entertaining the class. I got more laughs and realized I enjoyed it as much as I had those readings at church. For a teenager still carrying around some old feelings of insecurity, the reaction of my classmates was more music to my ears.

Probably because of this experience and memories of the fun that I'd had giving readings to my mother's group, I tried out for a student play directed by Frazer and then another. By the time I was a senior, I was so addicted to student theatrical productions that you couldn't keep me out of them.

Prior to Frazer's arrival in Dixon, our high school's dramatic productions had been a little like my mother's readings: Students acted out portions of classic plays or out-of-date melodramas. B. J. Frazer staged complete plays using scripts from recent Broadway hits and he took it all quite seriously. In fact, for a high school English teacher in the middle of rural Illinois, he was amazingly astute about the theater and gave a lot of thought to what acting was all about. He wouldn't order you to memorize your lines and say: "Read it this way ..." Instead, he'd teach us that it was important to analyze our characters and think like them in ways that helped us be that person while we were on stage.

During a rehearsal, he'd sometimes interrupt gently and say: "What do you think your character means with that line? Why do you think he would say that?" Often, his questioning made you realize that you hadn't tried hard enough to get under the skin of your character so you could understand his motivations. After a while, whenever I read a new script, I'd automatically try first to understand what made that particular human being tick by trying to put myself in his place. The process, called empathy, is not bad training for someone who goes into politics (or any other calling). By developing a knack for putting yourself in someone else's shoes, it helps you relate better to others and perhaps understand why they think as they do, even though they come from a background much different from yours.

Reagan.jpg

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:22 PM
Category: Famous educations
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