Within the past few days, I received news of an upcoming high school reunion and in a meeting to honor educators, I listened to three high school students praise teachers who had made a difference in their lives. These two circumstances nudged my brain to travel back in time to Mr. Carl Kranish, my high school speech teacher and his influence on my life, totally unrecognized at the time.
I had attended a semi-rural elementary school, so entering a high school in town was a huge challenge. Many—perhaps most?—students came from families where higher education was the norm, their social standing far above that of my own family and friends, and their economic status mountains higher than my own. In addition to the normal paralyzing fears of a ninth grader (What if I forget my locker combination? Where in the world is Room 422b? How will I get from the gym to English on the third floor in five minutes?—we had no pre-first-day orientation in those long ago and far away days), I was somehow placed in a speech class open only to juniors and seniors. Handsome Ty was the adored football quarterback. Sue had saddle shoes without a trace of scuff. Barbara had pleated skirts and sweater sets to die for. (I told you this was a long time ago.)
None of these differences made an impact on Mr. Kranish. He expected every student in this equal opportunity class to learn how to speak extemporaneously on any assigned topic, debate intelligently both sides of any subject and never, ever say ‘jist’ for ‘just’ or ‘git’ for ‘get’! Never resorting to shame or demeaning rebuke, but never lowering his standards for this knee-quaking freshman, he prodded me to use speech subjects beyond my own interests and frequently chose me to represent our school in multi-school forensics events. These experiences helped me grow into someone increasingly comfortable in front of groups.
A note about “forensics”: before it was made popular by television’s CSI, meaning the application of scientific knowledge in crime investigation, forensics competitions in those days were organized to train students in the skills of public speaking and “the use of reasoned discourse in public life.” Traveling to other venues for such events placed me in a world I had never known, never even dreamed about.
It was only one class in the four years of my high school experience, often overshadowed by brain draining Latin and baffling geometry. I remember little from those classes: I use no geometry (that I’m aware of) and Latin is useful primarily in crossword puzzles and deciphering word meanings without a dictionary. But sixty years after sitting with Ty, Sue, Barbara and others, I—without conscious effort—continue to use the principles learned in that egalitarian, challenging, skill-stretching classroom with Mr. K.
Thanks, Mr. Kranish.