Senior English: Using Lance Armstrong to Explore Ambition

Here’s what we did in English today:

We started off going over the class syllabus, which you can find by clicking on the “Senior English” tab on this site’s home page.

Then, we began a discussion on ambition:

Pick one of these quotes as a springboard into a free write of your own ideas about ambition. For example, is ambition a good or bad character trait? Or, when does ambition turn from an admirable characteristic in a person to a detrimental one? How does the quote you chose connect to your thoughts?

Let your writing wander. It’s ok if you contradict yourself. Keep your pen moving for five minutes.

“When the gods wish to take vengeance on a man for his crimes they usually grant him considerable success and a period of impunity, so that when his fortune is reversed he will feel it all the more bitterly.“
–Julius Caesar

“Ambition can creep as well as soar.”
–Edmund Burke

“Ambition, madam, is a great man’s madness.”
–John Webster

“Ambition is a ‘lucifer’ applied to a barrel of gunpowder, the explosion of which, where it succeeds in blowing one man into a niche, dashes twenty to atoms.”
–Charles William Day

“Ambition fortifies the will of man to become ruler over other men: it operates with deception, cajolery, and violence, it is the action of impurity upon impurity.”
–T.S. Eliot

“Ambition is but Avarice on stilts and masked.”
–Walter Savage Landor

“Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.”
–Salvador Dali

“Great ambition is the passion of a great character. Those endowed with it may perform very good or very bad acts. All depends on the principles which direct them.”
-Napoleon Bonaparte

“The same ambition can destroy or save, and make a patriot as it makes a knave.”
-Alexander Pope

After some time discussing what was written in class, we take a look at the rise and fall of Lance Armstrong, the former 7x Tour de France champion.

Then, in small groups we read the New York Times article Lance Armstrong Is Stripped of His 7 Tour de France Titles. Students wrote — using evidence from the text — arguing whether or not ambition could be blamed for his rise and his fall.

Then, we watched some videos of his interview with Oprah where he finally admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs. They can be found on this website.

Finally, before class ended students wrote one more time. Taking examples from all parts of class (the initial free write, the New York Times article, the Oprah interviews) students decided whether or not ambition is a learned/developed personality trait or an inherited one. In other words, are people born with ambition wired into their character or is it something that develops over time. Can someone who has let ambition get the best of them turn things around? Do you feel that Armstrong did? Make sure you note when ideas in your final piece of writing came from your first two free writes. This last piece of writing was handed in at the end of class.