Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Real Great Debaters

video
I was doing research on the history behind the great debaters and found that the Marshall News Messenger, (in Marshall, Texas, the home of Wiley College) supplies an audio transcript of many of their articles.
why can't the nytimes do that? why can't we do that for our school kids? what happened to using to technology to enhance education rather than in just measuring it?
I used the audio as a background for a slide show of images from the movie and their real life counterparts, Melvin Beaunorus Tolson (played by Denzel) and James Farmer and Hetman Sweatt (two of the student debaters)
the transcript By Phil Latham
Sunday, December 16, 2007
I cannot write an objective review of "The Great Debaters."
I had intended to do just that, but it did not take more than a few minutes into the movie Thursday night for me to figure out that simply was not going to happen.
Having been publisher and editor of The Marshall News Messenger for almost 11 years now, I have seen too much, know too much, talked to too many Wiley graduates, heard too many stories.
So it would be meaningless for me to, say, give it "two thumbs up!" or talk about how it moved me and all those around me, or how I got the chill bumps watching and listening to the debaters, though I knew exactly how the story was going to end.
First things first, calling this a movie "inspired" by a true story is the perfect word to use. Inspiring fits in every single sense of that word. The movie and the facts do differ a bit, though perhaps not all that much. Historically, it is significant that the team debated the University of Southern California and not Harvard, for instance. It is also important to note that USC is not the only top college debated — and beaten. Those include Texas Christian University and the University of California.
But in tone and spirit, this movie is 100 percent, dead-on, accurate. What's more, it does so without falling into cliches. People rise and people fall. The debate team may be successful, but that does not come without a real price and real pain.
I don't want to give away too much of the movie, but it is also clearly implied that the success is by no means complete. Well, no surprise there, really. After all, the debate team had to come back to the Jim Crow South.
It struck me somewhere in the movie that this was a perfect allegory for the entire history of Wiley College — though I confess I don't know it as thoroughly as I should.
Wiley College was founded in the beginning as nothing more than a dream. As a reality the dream faced real struggles for survival, it faced loss, disappointment, victory, then more struggle.
The cycle goes on today. In just the time I have been here I have seen all of that and sometimes it happens in rapid succession. Resources are tight for tax-supported institutions and the scramble for student tuitions is a battle even among colleges that are far more well-heeled.
I believe it is assumed that there is some sort of safety net for Wiley College, some magic that is going to keep the college afloat no matter what. Maybe some think just because Wiley has endured for 134 years it always will.
This kind of mindset might keep you from slipping $10 — or $10,000 if you have it — into an envelope and sending it to help Wiley meet the challenges of the next generation of "great debaters."
Indeed, maybe Wiley will always survive, but the question for Marshall — and I'm talking about all of Marshall here — is will it thrive? Merely having a set of buildings on University Avenue doesn't mean much.
We need to ensure that the educational spirit that flowered in the time of Melvin B. Tolson is continued or rekindled if need be.
"The Great Debaters" can and will be a huge boon for the city of Marshall. The movie could have made Marshall look terrible — it does show racism, but what you see is typical of what happened in Jim Crow days — but it passes on that and accentuates the positive in the story.
As a community, we owe Wiley College for the past, for the present and, perhaps most of all, for the future that is to come.
We've waited long enough to pay up. I suggest we get to it.

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