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Speech, Debate and Communications

  Students will learn the fundamentals of spoken communication in this two semester course.  The  focus will be threefold: study, theory and application. The “Study” component will focus on the greatest speeches and debates in history, from the “Apology” of Socrates to “I Have a Dream” and beyond.  These famous speeches and debates will be analyzed from the perspective of argumentation, structure and rhetorical devices, forming the theoretical basis for in-class application. The “Application” of what we learn will consist of several speeches and debates that will be conducted live in class.  Students will present individual speeches and will engage in two-person debates.  Students will be coached in how to avoid common errors, such as saying “like” as a filler word, how to speak extemporaneously when called upon (particularly in an oral exam) and how to be effective and engaging when addressing an audience. FALL: 13 Sessions - Tuesdays at 8:00 am Pacific; 9:00 am Mountain; 10:00 am Cen

Dystopias in Fact and Fiction

  Dystopias are “negative utopias”, man-made hells that seem to come from an attempt to build man-made heavens on earth.  They can be studied in both history and literature, which is what this course will set out to do. From a literary perspective, students will read famous dystopian novels and poems such as 1984, Brave New World, The Giver, “The Waste Land”, “The Second Coming” and more. From a historical perspective, students will examine the concept of hell in ancient and medieval times and will examine “failed utopias” in history, from the ancient Montanists through the early modern Anabaptists, up to the Communist totalitarian states of the USSR and China. The course will attempt to find a theoretical basis for understanding the dystopian strain in literature and history - and will identify active elements of “dystopianism” today. FALL 2024 - 13 Sessions - Wednesdays at 2:00 pm Eastern from Sept. 11 to Dec. 11, 2024, with no meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 27 for Thanksgiving Break. Ag

Drama and the Human Spirit

  Drama and dramatic literature are at the heart of the human experience.  This course will examine the history of Western Drama, reading plays from Ancient Greece, through Medieval, Renaissance and early Modern times to current Broadway hits.  Drama will be examined from several perspectives: its relation to religious festivals in the ancient and medieval world; its use as a “mirror” that is held up to human nature (in Hamlet’s words); its relation to the history and culture of its various eras; and its ongoing symbolic and ritualistic aspects, even in our current age.   Students will learn the elements of dramatic literature, including staging, plot, character development, catharsis, denouement, etc., and will get a taste of various theories of Drama, from Aristotle to Nietzsche. More than anything, students will be exposed to a survey of great dramatic literature, including Sophocles, Plautus, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Ibsen, Shaw, O’Neil, Miller and others.  The course will also delve

Allegory, Symbolism and Imagery

What is allegory?  How is symbolism used in literature and myth?  How do writers use imagery to convey themes and moods in fiction and poetry?  How do symbols and allegories express the deepest strands of our psyches? These are some of the questions that will be examined in this course, which will introduce students to Allegory, Symbolism and Imagery through works such as “The Allegory of the Cave” from Plato’s Republic, Everyman, Pilgrim’s Progress, “The Masque of the Red Death”, Animal Farm, Tolkien’s story “Leaf by Niggle”, various poems and more.  In addition, the Symbolist movement in art and literature will be examined, as will Freud and Jung’s approach to the analysis of symbols and “archetypes” in myths and dreams. SPRING 2025: 13 Sessions - Wednesdays at 11:00 am Pacific; Noon Mountain; 1:00 pm Central; 2:00 pm Eastern from Jan. 15 to April 16, 2025, with no meeting on Wednesday, March 12 for Spring Break. Age Range: High School Offered through Royal Fireworks Online Learning.

Adventures in Writing

This exciting course will explore the Adventure of Writing!   Students will both work and play with all kinds of writing by means of fun and engaging weekly exercises.  We will learn proper syntax, grammar, punctuation, sentence and paragraph structure - and we will do so by writing book reports, essays, news articles, mystery stories, comedy sketches, letters, limericks, poetry, science fiction and even superhero and fantasy tales! In addition, literary devices, outlining, brainstorming, vocabulary building and spelling will be part of the process of learning how to be better writers - the kind of writers that readers of all sorts want to read! Each semester’s final project will be a creative piece (such as a skit or mini- mystery or monologue) that the students will present either live in class or via video or audio recording. This will be a fun and challenging two-semester course, and one that will give young people a solid foundation of skills that they will build upon in high scho

Book Clubs

 Coming Soon!

Live Courses 2024-2025

Here are the live courses I'll be teaching online Fall 2024 and Spring 2025.  I'll be adding links as more info become available! Adventures in Writing  - Grades 6 & 7 Speech, Debate and Communications  - High School Drama and the Human Spirit - Middle School and High School Dystopias in Fact and Fiction  - High School Symbolism, Allegory and Imagery - High School

Rave Reviews!

"I cannot tell you what a difference your class has made this semester for [my daughter]. She came downstairs the other day and said, 'I'm so sad that Mr. O'Brien's class is over.'  This semester I watched some of your classes with [my daughter] because she'd say, 'Mom, you're going to love this!  Pull up a chair!' You are an outstanding teacher ... We are so grateful for your impact on my daughter's life,"  "We love Mr. O'Brien!! Our son is really enjoying his class this semester. Thank you so much!"  You are so very real and down to earth, so spontaneous. You're not afraid to just be who you are. You are alive and that's what your students love. Of course you can throw in a great sense of humor and intelligence to boot. Thank you for drawing all your friends more deeply into the mysteries of life. We can't help but think about the deeper things, the most important things in lead us