Ethos Education

Florence Foster Jenkins: The Best Policy?

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Assembly Objective:

  • Is it always right to tell the truth, even if we know it will hurt someone’s feelings? And if we decide not to be truthful, is there a point where our actions will be harmful? Through reflection on an Old Testament proverb and a verse from a New Testament letter, this assembly offers students the opportunity to consider how our actions impact others and to reflect on their friendships.

Film:

  • Florence Foster Jenkins (Pathe, 2016, PG). Click here to buy the DVD online.

Bible:

Supporting Values Education:

  • The values of Respect and Tolerance derive from an underlying belief that everyone is valuable, whatever they are able to achieve. This assembly encourages pupils to explore how to be respectful of other people’s abilities alongside the obligation to respond truthfully. The value of Respect provides an obligation to respond truthfully to other people, with due regard to their dignity as a human being. This assembly enables pupils to weigh when it is appropriate to speak truthfully even when there is a risk of hurting someone’s feelings.

OPENING ACTIVITY

True and Kind (Quiz)

  • Invite two volunteers to come to the front of the assembly, informing them that you would like them to play the part of judges. Provide them with something that makes a noise (a buzzer, bell, hooter, alarm, drum) and, if you want, you could give them some costumes and props (wigs, gavels etc.).
  • Inform everyone that you are going to read a series of statements. With some help from the audience, the judges must decide whether the statements are acceptable or unacceptable. The judges can ask the audience to vote on the statements, or simply make up their own minds. They indicate their acceptance of a statement by making a noise with their buzzer/bell/hooter.
  • Each judge will judge one aspect of the statement. The first judge will decide if it is TRUE, the second if it is KIND.
  • As you read the statement you may have to control the activity by thinking about the aspects in turn (but don’t labour it – snap judgements are good as you can refer back to this later).
  • Statements:
    • (To your friend who is on a diet)
    • Eating bars of chocolate makes you lose weight (T = no, K = no)
    • (To a classmate who has just failed an exam)
    • You’ve only yourself to blame because you didn’t work hard enough (T = maybe, K = no)
    • (To your mum)
    • It’s embarrassing when you come to the school gate and kiss me goodbye in the morning (T = yes, K = no)
    • (To someone who has just had their eyebrows tattooed)
    • Tattooed eyebrows look ridiculous (T = debatable, K = no)
    • (To your brother who tells you he is thinking of going on the Great British Bake Off, even though he is distinctly average at baking)
    • I really like your cakes, but maybe you need to practise a bit harder before entering a competition (T = yes, K = yes)
    • (To your friend who is about to go on a date wearing a ridiculous outfit)
    • You look fantastic (T = maybe not, K = debatable)
  • Make the point that while many of the statements were ridiculous, it can be very difficult to always be kind and truthful in our relationships. Like much of life, it’s not black and white.

FILM CLIP

  • Play the clip from Florence Foster Jenkins (Pathe, 2016, certificate PG)
    • Start time: 00:20:00
    • End time: 00:28:48
    • Clip length: 8 minutes 48 seconds
  • [If you are short of time, you could show the beginning of the clip, stop it at 00:23:43, then restart at 27:00:00]
  • The clip begins with Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg) arriving at the home of Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) and St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) where he is to accompany her singing lesson with Carlo Edwards (David Haig), a famous conductor. McMoon is clearly overwhelmed by the importance of the people in the room but, as Florence begins to sing, it becomes clear that she has a terrible voice. She sings off key, doesn’t know the words of the song and makes an appalling noise. When she finishes singing Edwards tells her that she has never sounded better, and that there is no-one quite like her. Bayfield agrees. McMoon is unable to stop himself from giggling out loud as he travels back in the lift. Later Florence decides that the time has come to stage a concert. Edwards encourages her to do this but then tells Bayfield that he will not be able to attend the concert (even though the date has not been set) and that he would prefer to keep the classes discreet in case any of his other students felt neglected. Bayfield gives him an envelope with money and Edwards comments that Florence spoils them all. McMoon then approaches Bayfield to say that he thinks the concert is a bad idea. He goes on to describe how bad she is as a singer. Bayfield tells him that a few wrong notes can be forgiven but singing without feeling cannot.

TALK

Download The Best Policy? PowerPoint for use with this talk.

Scripted Talk

  • [PowerPoint slide 1 – The Best Policy?]
    • I wonder if you have ever found yourself in the uncomfortable position of having to tell the truth even when you know it’s going to hurt someone? Imagine you arrange to meet your friend in town and when they arrive they are very pleased with their new haircut. They ask you if you like it, and the truth is that you absolutely hate it. In fact, you think it’s the stupidest choice they have ever made. Would you tell them the truth? Or would you lie and say that you love it?
  • [PowerPoint slide 2 – Talent Shows]
    • Are you someone who will always tell the truth, even if it’s going to be hurtful, or do you worry so much about other people’s feelings that you’d happily tell a lie to keep the peace?
    • The makers of TV shows like X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent know that there are plenty of people who think they have talent and whose friends are too nice, or too scared, to tell them otherwise. The programme makers know that they will get lots of viewers by showing these people making fools of themselves on TV, but this problem is not a new one.
  • [PowerPoint slide 3 – Florence Foster Jenkins]
    • The film Florence Foster Jenkins is based on the true story of a wealthy woman living in New York in the 1940s. Married to an actor, Florence once had a promising career as a pianist, but was unable to continue due to illness. In the clip, Florence has started having singing lessons and has employed a young man to accompany her during her lessons. He arrives at Florence’s home and is overawed by the famous people he meets there. As we’ll discover, though, Florence’s voice is quite unique and the people around her are not as great as they appear.
    • Play the clip from Florence Foster Jenkins (Pathe, 2016, certificate PG)
      • Start time: 00:20:00
      • End time: 00:28:48
      • Clip length: 8 minutes 48 seconds
    • [If you are short of time, you could show the beginning of the clip, stop it at 00:23:43, then restart at 27:00:00]
    • The clip begins with Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg) arriving at the home of Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) and St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) where he is to accompany her singing lesson with Carlo Edwards (David Haig), a famous conductor. McMoon is clearly overwhelmed by the importance of the people in the room but, as Florence begins to sing, it becomes clear that she has a terrible voice. She sings off key, doesn’t know the words of the song and makes an appalling noise. When she finishes singing Edwards tells her that she has never sounded better, and that there is no-one quite like her. Bayfield agrees. McMoon is unable to stop himself from giggling out loud as he travels back in the lift. Later Florence decides that the time has come to stage a concert. Edwards encourages her to do this but then tells Bayfield that he will not be able to attend the concert (even though the date has not been set) and that he would prefer to keep the classes discreet in case any of his other students felt neglected. Bayfield gives him an envelope with money and Edwards comments that Florence spoils them all. McMoon then approaches Bayfield to say that he thinks the concert is a bad idea. He goes on to describe how bad she is as a singer. Bayfield tells him that a few wrong notes can be forgiven but singing without feeling cannot.
    • Clearly, the people around Florence Foster Jenkins, were not being truthful about her singing abilities. If you were following closely, you would notice that there were a number of reasons why people didn’t tell Florence the truth.
  • [PowerPoint slide 4 – Flattery]
    • Carlo Edwards, the singing tutor, was being well paid for his time, and he clearly thought that it would do no harm to flatter Florence and pocket the money she gave him. When asked about the concert, rather than speak the truth, he pretended he would be out of town and tried to stop anyone else finding out that he had been teaching her.
  • [PowerPoint slide 5 – St Clair Bayfield]
    • Florence’s husband, on the other hand, was more complex. Although he was clearly  benefitting from her wealth, he also seemed to love Florence, and wanted her to believe that she had a marvellous voice. He was not prepared to listen to any objections, and seemed to want to keep Florence happy, even if it meant lying to her.
  • [PowerPoint slide 6 – Cosmé McMoon]
    • The dilemma that Cosmé McMoon faced was whether or not to tell Florence the truth, even though it might cost him his job. On the one hand, if he told her the truth, she would avoid the embarrassment of looking foolish in front of a paying audience. On the other, if he lied to her, her feelings wouldn’t be hurt by hearing that her singing was flat.
    • I wonder what you would do in that situation –  tell the truth and miss out on the money, or tell a lie and avoid hurting someone’s feelings?
  • [PowerPoint slide 7 – Would you rather have a friend who was truthful or someone who told you lies?]
    • There are lots of proverbs, or wise sayings, in the Bible about friendship, and one is about this dilemma.
  • [PowerPoint slide 8 – Proverbs 27:6]
    • Read Proverbs 27:6 (New Living Translation)
    • ‘Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.’
    • A true friend is one who sticks with you through any situation, and is brave enough to tell you the truth, even when it might hurt to hear it. Someone who won’t be truthful with you, and tries to flatter you isn’t a real friend. In fact the proverb describes that person as an enemy.
  • [PowerPoint slide 9 – Trying to be kind]
    • The singing tutor was certainly not a true friend, but was only interested in flattering Florence in order to make money, but what about Florence’s husband, St Clair? Surely he was trying to be kind to Florence, and save her feelings. Surely he was a friend even though he didn’t tell the truth?
    • There’s another verse in the Bible that helps us think about how we tell the truth. It’s from a letter in the New Testament, and the writer, Paul, tells his readers that they should be truthful, but they should also be loving.
  • [PowerPoint slide 10 – Ephesians 4:14-16]
    • Read Ephesians 4:14-16 (New Living Translation)
    • ‘Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.’
  • [PowerPoint slide 11 – Speaking the truth in love online]
    • It’s important not to be tricked by lies. We live in a time when we are surrounded by opinions, gossip and ideas. We have instant access to internet and social media, and it’s easy to be drawn in to lies and hurtful stories about other people. We’ve all seen stories on the internet that turn out to be false, and perhaps some of us have been victims of unkind words that are spoken about us online.
  • [PowerPoint slide 12 – Paul’s advice]
    • Paul’s advice is that people should learn ‘to speak the truth in love’, in other words, not to flatter people falsely, but also to be loving and kind in how we treat others. He makes the point that everyone has a special part to play, and it is important to treat other people with respect and honour. Paul says that Jesus is a good example of someone who lived this way, and that people who choose to follow him will become more and more like him.
    • St Clair Bayfield didn’t tell Florence the truth, but he did try to act with kindness to her. The most loving thing he could have done would have been to tell her that holding a concert at Carnegie Hall was not a good idea. It would have been hard for her to hear, but it would have saved her embarrassment and ridicule, and if he had told her the truth kindly, she would probably have realised that he was a sincere friend, not an enemy.
  • [PowerPoint slide 13 – How can you speak the truth in love?]
    • The next time you are faced with the dilemma that Cosmé McMoon faced, you might want to think about the idea that telling the truth is the right thing to do, but also make sure that when you tell the truth you do it kindly, in a way that lets the person know you are a good friend.

Headings and Bullets

Download The Best Policy? PowerPoint for use with this talk.

  • [PowerPoint slide 1 – The Best Policy?]
    • Being in the uncomfortable position of having to tell the truth even when you know it’s going to hurt someone.
    • Imagine you arrange to meet your friend in town and when they arrive they are very pleased with their new haircut.
    • They ask you if you like it, and the truth is that you absolutely hate it.
    • Would you tell them the truth? Or would you lie and say that you love it?
  • [PowerPoint slide 2 – Talent Shows]
    • Are you someone who will always tell the truth, even if it’s going to be hurtful?
    • Or do you worry so much about other people’s feelings that you’d happily tell a lie to keep the peace?
    • TV talent shows rely on showing people who think they have talent, and whose friends are too nice, or too scared to tell them otherwise.
    • Lots of viewers for people making fools of themselves.
    • This problem is not a new one.
  • [PowerPoint slide 3 – Florence Foster Jenkins]
    • Introduce the film clip – based on a true story.
    • Wealthy woman living in New York in the 1940s.
    • Once had a promising career as a pianist, but unable to continue.
    • Florence has started having singing lessons and has employed a young man to accompany her during her lessons.
    • Play the clip from Florence Foster Jenkins (Pathe, 2016, certificate PG)
      • Start time: 00:20:00
      • End time: 00:28:48
      • Clip length: 8 minutes 48 seconds
    • [If you are short of time, you could show the beginning of the clip, stop it at 00:23:43, then restart at 27:00:00]
    • Talk about the clip:
    • The people around Florence Foster Jenkins were not being truthful about her singing.
    • There were a number of reasons why people didn’t tell Florence the truth.
  • [PowerPoint slide 4 – Flattery]
    • Carlo Edwards, the singing tutor, was being well paid for his time.
    • Clearly thought that it would do no harm to flatter Florence.
    • Chose to pretend he would be out of town and didn’t want others to know he was teaching her.
  • [PowerPoint slide 5 – St Clair Bayfield]
    • Although he was clearly benefitting from her wealth, he also loved Florence.
    • Wanted her to believe that she had a marvellous voice.
    • Not prepared to listen to any objections.
    • Wanted to keep Florence happy, even if it meant lying to her.
  • [PowerPoint slide 6 – Cosmé McMoon]
    • Facing a dilemma.
    • Telling Florence the truth might cost him his job.
    • If he told her the truth, she would avoid the embarrassment of looking foolish in front of a paying audience.
    • If he lied to her, her feelings wouldn’t be hurt by hearing that her singing was flat.
    • What would you do?
  • [PowerPoint slide 7 – Would you rather have a friend who was truthful or someone who told you lies?]
    • Proverbs or wise sayings in the Bible about friendship.
    • One is about this dilemma.
  • [PowerPoint slide 8 – Proverbs 27:6]
    • Read Proverbs 27:6 (New Living Translation):
    • ‘Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy’.
    • A true friend is one who sticks with you through any situation.
    • Is brave enough to tell you the truth, even when it might hurt to hear it.
    • Someone who won’t be truthful with you, and tries to flatter you, isn’t a real friend.
    • The proverb describes that person as an enemy.
  • [PowerPoint slide 9 – Trying to be kind]
    • The singing tutor was certainly not a true friend.
    • Only interested in flattering Florence in order to make money.
    • St Clair was trying to be kind to Florence, and save her feelings.
    • Surely he was a friend even though he didn’t tell the truth?
    • There’s another verse in the Bible that helps us think about how we tell the truth.
  • [PowerPoint slide 10 – Ephesians 4:14-16]
    • Read Ephesians 4:14-16:
  • [PowerPoint slide 11 – Speaking the truth in love online]
    • It’s important not to be tricked by lies.
    • We are surrounded by opinions, gossip and ideas.
    • Instant access to internet and social media.
    • Easy to be drawn in to lies and hurtful stories about other people.
    • Perhaps some of us have been victims of unkind words that are spoken about us online.
  • [PowerPoint slide 12 – Paul’s advice]
    • Don’t flatter people falsely.
    • Be loving and kind to others.
    • Everyone has a special part to play.
    • It is important to treat other people with respect and honour.
    • People who choose to follow Jesus will become more and more like him.
    • St Clair Bayfield didn’t tell Florence the truth, but he was kind.
    • Most loving thing would have been to tell her that holding a concert was not a good idea.
    • Would have been hard for her to hear, but would have saved embarrassment and ridicule.
    • If he had told her the truth kindly, she would probably have realised that he was a sincere friend, not an enemy.
  • [PowerPoint slide 13 – How can you speak the truth in love?]
    • Next time you are faced with the dilemma that Cosmé McMoon faced, think about the idea that telling the truth is the right thing to do.
    • But make sure that you do it kindly.
    • Let the person know you are good friend.

Photo Copyright for The Best Policy? PowerPoint: Slide 1 Pixabay.com / Slide 2 Pixabay.com / Slide 3 Twentieth Century Fox / Slides 4-6 and 9 image.net / Slides 7, 12, 13 iStockphoto.com / Slide 8 Pixabay.com / Slide 10 Pixabay.com / Slide 11 Pixabay.com


RESPOND

Prayer

  • Father God, thank you for the friends I have who speak truthfully and kindly to me. Help me to be a good friend and not a flattering enemy. Help me to speak the truth in love. Amen.

Reflection

  • Take a moment to remember a time when you were glad that someone told you the truth about yourself.
  • Take a moment to remember all the people who are kind and loving towards you.
  • Take a moment to think about all the opportunities you have to speak truthfully to others – face to face and online.
  • How will you choose to act when you’re faced with a dilemma like Cosmé? How can you speak the truth kindly today?

YOU WILL NEED:

  1. A copy of Florence Foster Jenkins (Pathe, 2016, certificate PG). Click here to buy the DVD online.
  2. The Best Policy? PowerPoint.
  3. Buzzers, bells or hooters for True and Kind opening activity.
  4. Judges’ wigs and gavels if using, for True and Kind opening activity.

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