“Something that’s supposed to cover our mouths speaks volumes about how crazy some people have gotten. When people ask me about my mood these days, I tell them that I feel like I’m a reporter for The Pompeii Daily News in A.D. 79…” T. L. Friedman, The New York Times
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Excerpt: If Our Masks Could Speak, By Thomas L. Friedman
“The summer of 2020 could be remembered as one of those truly important dates in American history. Everywhere you turn you see parents who don’t know where or if their kids will go to school this fall, renters who don’t know when or if they will be evicted, unemployed who don’t know what if any safety net Congress will put under them, businesses that don’t know how or if they can hold on another day — and none of us who know whether we’ll be able to vote in November…How did we get so inept?
If, God forbid, America were buried under lava the way Pompeii was and future archaeologists were to come along and dig it out, I have no doubt that the artifact they’d dust off and hold up first to answer that huge question would be a simple item that costs pennies to make and is so easy to wear: the face mask. For something that’s supposed to cover our mouths it speaks volumes about how crazy some have gotten.
Specifically, that face mask tells how the world’s richest and most scientifically advanced country generated a cadre of leaders and citizens who made wearing a covering over their nose and mouth to prevent the spread of a contagion into a freedom-of-speech issue and cultural marker — something no other country in the world did…And that’s where we are now. When you compare the sacrifices — including the ultimate sacrifice — that the Greatest Generation of Americans made to defend their fellow citizens from the scourge of Nazism with how little some members of today’s generations will sacrifice to defend their fellow Americans from the scourge of Covid-19 — by just wearing a face mask — it leaves you speechless.
It’s inexcusable. Resisting wearing a mask in a pandemic is nothing more than selfish, libertarian nonsense masquerading as a comic-book defense of freedom: ‘Don’t tread on me, but I can breathe on you.’ Trump’s resistance to masks actually had nothing to do with ideology. It was just his primitive opposition to anything that would highlight the true health crisis we were in and that therefore might hurt his re-election… As John Finn, professor emeritus of government at Wesleyan University, writing on The Conversation.com, noted, ‘There are two reasons why mask mandates don’t violate the First Amendment. First, a mask doesn’t keep you from expressing yourself. … Additionally, the First Amendment, like all liberties ensured by the Constitution, is not absolute. All constitutional rights are subject to the government’s authority to protect the health, safety and welfare of the community.’
We have a way to go…Wearing a mask in this pandemic is a sign of respect for your fellow citizens and neighbors — no matter what their race, creed or political affiliation. Wearing a mask says: ‘I’m not just concerned about myself. I’m concerned about you, too. We are all part of the same community, the same country and the same struggle to stay healthy.’ A different president would have been urging every American, from the start of this pandemic, to don a red, white and blue mask. He would have used such a mask to do double duty — crush Covid-19 and bring us together for the long march needed to do so.
As I said, a different president.”
“The right to vote is the most sacred American right there is — exercise it. Make your voice heard this November.”
~Democratic Presidential Leader Joe Biden ~
~Vice-Presidential Leader Kamala Harris~
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Predictions: Using a Pre-reading Organizer
Directions: Examine the title of the post and of the actual article. Next examine any photos. Write a paragraph describing what you think this article will discuss. A pre-reading organizer may be used.
II. While Reading Activities
Directions: Try to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. You use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- The author feels like a reporter for The Pompeii Daily News in A.D. 79.
- Many people don’t know if they will be evicted.
- Some people are already unemployed.
- Anxiety is building up beneath our society.
- How did we get so inept?
- The artifact they’d dust off and hold up first would be the face mask.
- This country had generated a a cadre of leaders and citizens who selfishly refuse to wear a face mask.
- Wearing a mask is the cheapest way to prevent the spread of a contagion.
- Years ago Americans made the ultimate sacrifice.
- Resisting wearing a mask in a pandemic is inexcusable.
Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage
Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical error. Identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.
- The summer of 2020 could be remembered as a important date in American history.
- That is a lot of anxiety building up beneath our society.
- For something that’s supposed to cover our mouths it speaks volumes about how crazy some have gotten.
- Resisting wearing a mask in a pandemic is nothing more than selfish.
- Mike Pence is always happy to put lipstick on Trump’s piggishness.
- There are two reason why mask mandates don’t violate the First Amendment.
- Our future archaeologists would also be right to focus on face masks.
- We have a way too go.
- Wearing a mask in this pandemic is a sign of respect for your fellow citizens and neighbors.
Reading Comprehension Fill-ins
Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentences taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.
“But Mike Pence — always happy to put___on Trump’s ___— dressed up his ___mask-resistance in constitutional garb.
When asked by a___ at Trump’s Tulsa___a few weeks ago why the president appeared___about the absence of masks and social___ at his event, Pence solemnly intoned: ‘I want to remind you again, freedom of speech and the right to peaceably assemble is in the ___ Even in a health crisis, the American people don’t___ our constitutional rights.’ What a fraud.
WORD LIST: forfeit, Constitution of the U.S., distancing, unconcerned, reporter, elegant, crude, rally, lipstick, piggishness,
III. Post Reading Activities
Discussion Questions for Comprehension /Writing
Directions: Have students discuss the following questions/statements. Afterwards, students share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics mentioned.
- According to the author why is there a building up of anxiety in this country?
- The author provides one main reason for our ineptness at handling the coronavirus. What is it?
- In your opinion, who is to blame for people not wearing face masks?
- The author states, “A society that can politicize something as simple as a face mask in a pandemic can politicize anything, can make anything a wedge issue…” What does he mean?
- What does the author say is the ultimate sacrifice that Americans can do (and have done in the past) for their fellow citizens?
- What does the author call refusing to wear a face mask in a pandemic? Do you agree or disagree? Why?
- The author refers to Trump as being ‘primitive’ in handling our country especially during Covid-19. Do you agree/disagree? Provide reasons for your opinion.
- What reason does the author give for Trump’s resistance to masks?
Directions: In 5 minutes to write down three new ideas you’ve learned about the topic from the reading, two things that you did not understand in the reading, and one thing you would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.