Learning Activity

I Wish to Speak For...

 

Art Form
Poetry, Essay, Creative Dramatics, Puppetry
Multi-Disciplines
Language Arts, Social Studies, Art
Grade Levels
2 - 8
You will need
Writing materials, art supplies
Time One hour

Overview

This activity is an exercise in teaching ourselves to be generous, and an exercise against cruelty. The activity asks students to become the voice of a voiceless being. To do this, students must imaginatively put themselves in the Other’s place. This activity helps students develop empathy. The assumption of this Activity is that all lives have value—not because they are useful to humans, but because they are living members of our community.

This activity also suggests that humans can become advocates for those beings that cannot themselves withstand the human destruction of habitat and that have no legal standing in human law.


Activity

Discuss: What members of our communities have legal standing?

Recently in a lawsuit lawyers have been appointed to represent the interests of redwood trees. Those lawyers then will become courtroom advocates for the interests of trees.

Apparently this is the first time any life form not human has been given legal standing.

Whether or not all beings have or should have legal “rights,” it is clear that a great many lives are suffering because of human action. Thousands of species of plants and animals are becoming extinct every year. We humans have become the Sixth Great Extinction.


This eloquent testimony was delivered in court by a Native American named Mapescass.

Share aloud:

Who speaks for animals who cannot talk?
Who sees for flowers which are blind?
Who guards the river which has but one course?
Who represents the mountain in time?
Who comes here to argue for the life of beavers?
Who will tell of the importance of snails?
Who has seen the mantis shed his skin?
Who believes in butterfly wings?

I am nature’s advocate.
Ten million birds
Ten million trees
Ten million animals
Ten million fish
Are mine.

I will fight you in this room
And out of it.
I will dare you to define
Progress
On the face of a dime.

Task: Students are asked to respond to Mapescass’s challenge and agree to become the voice or advocate for one natural entity.

It may be plant or animal, and may also be larger entities such as ecosystems (tropical rainforests, prairie, lakes, etc.) or natural forces or powers (such sun, wind, air).


• The first task is to decide what you wish to speak for, whose voice you will provide.
• The second task is to summon up your empathy and go inside that being and discover what it wants to say.


Students use an opening line which responds to Mapescass’s questions:

I wish to speak for…
I want to speak for…
I want to dream for…
I want to fight for…
I wish to weep for…
I want to laugh for…
I am the advocate of..
I speak for...

 

Or students use any of several alternatives They can speak in the first person, as if they were the thing spoken for. See the Student Source Sheet I Wish to Speak For…for typical directions students take. Remind students that the goal is to develop their empathy and caring as well as to write a poem.

Variations

1) Choose a community member that many people dislike and regard as a pest, such as Ms. Mosquito (only females bite us).

• Charge Ms. Mosquito with a crime and prosecute her. Hold a trial. Pick a jury.
• Defense lawyers must research the good the defendant does in the ecological community, so they can argue in his favor.

• For example, killing all the mosquito larvae in ponds near a metro area inevitably reduces fish and bird populations. Swallows disappear because there is little to eat. And so on.


2) Do dramatic interpretations of student poems


3) Translate student poems into brief puppet shows, making stick puppets or other simple puppets.

Student Source Sheet I Wish to Speak For…

 

THE SUN

I want to speak for the sun
coming up after days of hiding
behind gray clouds.
I want to speak for the snow
before it vanishes into ground.
I want to speak for a tree,
cut, falling down
out of the sky
like a dying star.
When the dust has cleared
and the bigger wood hauled away,
there are still traces of it being—
branches, a stump, and bits of
sawdust. I want to speak
the unspoken things
that need to be spoken,
from big to little things.

—Dan Killmer, gr 8



THE OCEANS

I wish to speak for the oceans,
The bright blue plentiful oceans.
I wish to speak for the creatures within,
Speeding schools of fish, waving arms of green
Flourishing, swimming, feasting … living.
I speak for life.
I wish to speak for the oceans,
The dirty, endlessly polluted oceans.
I wish to speak for the creatures within,
Otters, birds slicked with oil, dolphins grabbed by nets
Struggling, splashing, drowning … dying.
I wish to speak for life.


—Adam Johnson, gr 7

THE WIND

I once sang a song
of promise and praise.
Now I sing a sadness song.
Smog makes me unbreathable,
Carbon Monoxice makes me kill those in my path,
leaving them for their loved ones to find.
I ask for your help,
but you don’t.
I ask for your love,
but you won’t.
I ask for your help so again
I can sing my song of promise and praise.

— Katie Rowell, gr 5

 

ENDANGERED SPECIES

I am the advocate of the air.
As the wind whistles through the trees,
carbon dioxide is pushed into air by cars.
We try to breathe.
As factories force pollutants into the oxygen,
we try to breathe.
As aerosol cans spray,
we try to breathe.
As a forest fire rages,
we try to breathe.

—Aaron Uldo, gr 4

 

WHO SPEAKS?

Who will speak for the baby birds
whose mother and father
were shot and left?

Who will speak simply for leaves
torn in a storm?

Who will speak for the moth
who laid eggs on a leaf
that was eaten before the eggs hatched?

—Jenny Bosch, gr 4



THE FOREST

Who speaks
for the forest?
Who speaks
for the trees
and the eagles
and the spotted owls
and the little mice
and the big bears
who live
in the forest?
Who speaks
for the forest entire?

—Kristoff Hendrickson

VOICE

I am the voice for the bees, the bugs,
those things we don’t like!
The moths, the gnats, the mosquitoes,
those things we slap at!
How would it feel? How would it feel to be
Slapped, Clapped, Stomped,
Squished whenever you’re seen?

You would protest. Fight back.
They can’t.
They just hurt. Die.
How must it feel?
Not so good, to have your blood
on someone else’s hands.

— Nicole Beckstrom, gr 5

 

WHO SPEAKS FOR ANIMALS?

Who speaks for the animals of water:
whales and sharks and fish?
Who speaks for the animals of land:
worms and insects and snakes?
Who speaks for mammals:
cows and cats and skunks and horses?
Who speaks for the flyers of sky:
birds and bats and Pegasus?

—Kira Hegeman

 

 



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