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Educating ‘Go beyond the obvious’


I had taught English in Japan for a long time, including at the National Diet, but I decided to move to the Czech Republic to work there.

I thought I had some special affinity with that country because of my love for the Czech novelist, Milan Kundera, who wrote “The UnbearableLightness of Being,” as well as for the Czech opera composer Leos Janacek.

As it turned out, I met only one Czech person who liked Kundera, and Janacek’s operas were not performed in Prague; not while I was there, anyway. But I did at least make my debut on the stage of the Prague State Opera– not exactly as a singer, though, but as a hummer.

One production of a chamber opera had the audience seated on the stage, while the empty theater was filled with white balloons. (I never figured out why.) Seated there on the stage I took my chance to humduring a loud choral passage, just to be able to say I’d performed there.

I really enjoyed the opera there in several of Prague’s reasonably-priced opera theaters, including one where scenes from the film “Amadeus” were shot. I was such a regular attendee that once they even let me in free for one performance.

My job was to teach English to all the state prosecutors who assembled in the center of the country each month in order to acquire the language skills they needed for the Republic’s entry into the European Union.

It was occasionally rough going. When I gave them homework, some of these prosecutors glared at me as though they would like to lock me up. And when they spoke Czech instead of English in the classroom, I said the next time they did it, I’d speak Japanese to them.

And I did, until they followed my English-only rule.

There were some fun moments, though, like the time when I had these august personages form a circle and keep a balloon aloft by tapping it while one-by-one shouting out the name of a crime. Of course they knew a lot of crimes.

I feel happy that their country is now a full-fledged member of the EU, though I can take only a little credit.

My living quarters were in the Hotel Dum. Whether it was pronounced “doom” or “dumb,” the Ritz it wasn’t.

I have a sad memory. One day I asked a young university student what his teachers in the atheistic Communist era had said about all the beautiful Baroque churches in Prague. He said he’d been taught that those who had built them and attended them were “mentally ill.”

I decided my attraction to the Czech Republic was of the non-fatal type, though Prague is a gorgeous city, and the people were kind to me.

I found a job in Thailand at a small international school. This I loved more than any job I’d ever had.

My students were mostly Asians whose mother tongue was not English. It was, needless to say, a challenge to teach classical literature such as Shakespeare, Homer, and Sophocles to these students, but I found that by pre-teaching vocabulary, devising guided-reading questions, and acting out key scenes, progress was steady.

They were eventually able to write persuasively on such topics as “Is Hamlet really mad? “ and “Is Oedipus responsible for his actions?”

Always prodding my students to delve deeper in their analyses, I often said, “Go beyond the obvious.”

One day a student wanted a hint about what the final exam would be like. Not wanting to give anything away, I said it would be on A-4 paper with black ink.

The student countered: “Go beyond the obvious.”

While I was their teacher, these gifted students performed two ancient Greek plays in the open air in full costume and masks while the student body looked on from tiered bleacher seats, like in an ancient “theatron.”

Dana Larrick is a longtime educator with family in Clinton County.

Dana Larrick

Guest columnist