Study Guide

“Never have we needed to look back to Kennedy and Frost more intensely and wonder what can we learn from these men, what can we take away from this moment in time, and what words can we find there which are going to light a way to a more hopeful, civilized, and peaceful American future?”

-Jay Parini, Professor of English, Middlebury College and Robert Frost biographer.

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The Study Guide Project

Professor Parini’s words above capture the central mission of our project. What can we as individuals and as a society learn from Kennedy and Frost, their words, their example and their lives that is relevant today?

We believe the film, book and website we have created can be potent teaching resources. Resources that can help inspire students of all ages to study history, politics and the power of words. Resources that can introduce students to another era in our politics; to the meaning of aspirational leadership; to the relationship of poetry to power; and to insights into the craft of one of America’s most beloved poets.

The objective of the on-going Study Guide Project is to facilitate study of the legacies and civic values of President Kennedy and Robert Frost that remain relevant to life in the twenty first century. To that end, we seek to collect and share discussion questions, lesson plans and topics meriting further study. We invite your participation in this voyage of discovery.

An Invitation to Educators

We extend a special invitation to educators at all levels to review both the film and book titled, JFK: The Last Speech, and evaluate them for use with your students. Email us at: jfkthelastspeech@gmail.com if you are interested, and we’ll provide 30-day access, via a Dropbox file, to the film and our companion book so you can evaluate them –without charge. If you decide to use either or both with your students, we’ll extend your access as needed. Our only request is that you let us know about the teaching experience afterward, ideally by sharing any lesson plan or course outline you develop. We’d love to share your input (with attribution of course) as we reach out to other educators in the same spirit in the future. Please click HERE to see more information on our hopes and intentions for compiling and distributing Study Guide materials for a broad audience.

“The film addresses a critically important topic — the relationship of education to democratic citizenship.”

 – Dr. Peter Easton

Reflecting on the Film

The following questions formed the basis for reflections on the film following the April 2019 screening at Florida State University in Tallahassee: 2

  1. Memories or acquired impressions of President Kennedy’s career and death clearly vary by age. What are yours?
  2. The term “liberal arts” is used repeatedly in the film. How would you define it?
  3. Do the liberal arts play a particular role in democratic citizenship? Can that role be practiced in all higher education institutions?
  4. Do you think that the ideals of the Peace Corps and President Kennedy’s New Frontier” are still valid?
  5. What did the poet Robert Frost see as the relationship between poetry and power? What part did he play in Kennedy’s “turn toward peace?”
  6. Is it realistic today to expect the beneficiaries of higher education to “serve the public good” as a career choice or strong avocation? How about those with major student debt burdens?
  7. What does the historian Ellen Fitzpatrick mean when she says that JFK was “no puritan?” How would that play today?
  8. What aspects, if any, of the Kennedy presidency and his relation to Robert Frost would you like to see reinvigorated today?
  9. Do you see any connection between Kennedy’s “turn toward peace” and his assassination in November 1963?
  10. Mickey Edwards wrote that Kennedy left behind a framework for judging those who aspire to lead. Do you agree?

What are the “Liberal Arts?”

The term “liberal arts education” is used a great deal in the film. What does it mean? Here are a few thoughts. The liberal arts are generally considered the oldest program of higher education in Western history, including a span of subjects from literature, philosophy, history and mathematics to the social and physical sciences. They do not traditionally extend to the professional, vocational, or technical curriculum, for which they may serve as either a prior basis or a close companion. One higher education prospectus puts it this way: “A liberal arts education not only challenges you to solve problems; it also trains you to ask which problems to solve and why.” In short, such a curriculum is designed to nurture our critical and creative capacities through direct experience with the bases of our knowledge.

“Civilization will not perish from lack of specialized knowledge or specialized institutions. Its greatest need may rather be the development of people of larger understanding and of the qualities and judgment to assume its complex burdens. For this purpose the first-class liberal arts college, itself a unique creation of the American scene, remains a notable and most promising institution.”

– John E. Sawyer, President of Williams College 1961-1973

Notes:

Questions in “Reflecting on the Film” and the section, “What are the ‘Liberal Arts’?” were prepared by by Dr. Peter Easton, (Amherst ’64), retired Florida State University faculty member in Education Leadership and Policy Studies.