Classroom Activities

  1. What appears to be Savio’s overall goal in this speech? Who do you think his target audience is? Discuss how well you believe Savio achieved his goal with this target audience.
  2. How does Savio use his experience with the Freedom Summer in Mississippi to bolster his credibility? How does he try to fuse his experience in Mississippi with his academic experience to appeal to his collegiate audience?
  3. Savio makes many allusions to literary and philosophic thinkers. Identify these quotes and discuss what role they play in Savio’s overall project. Consider the effects the references might have had on his audience. In contrast, consider what effects these references made have had on participants of other social movements of the 1960s, such as the Civil Rights movement.
  4. Savio’s speech takes special aim at the bureaucratic and business-like nature of modern universities. If his argument is that universities are too impersonal and dehumanizing, what do you think his solution is? What rhetorical appeals does he use to motivate his audience to enact this solution?
  5. Many students inside Sproul Hall were arrested and disciplined by the university after the sit-in. Do you think this was fair or not? Was Savio’s speech “good” or “bad” rhetoric in light of these consequences?
  6. Overall, do you think the student activists were acting ethically or unethically? Given the repression of free speech on Berkeley campus, were they justified in breaking the rules? What are the appropriate policies for free speech on a public university campus? Are there some types of rhetoric that should be banned?


Student Research

  1. Many different speeches from the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and subsequent student movements are available online. The anti-war movement, for instance, drew inspiration from the student movements at Berkeley. Read other speeches from student activists during this period. Consider researching the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) or Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Do these rhetors share themes, word choice, and appeals with Savio? If so, how do these speeches use similar elements to address different audiences and issues? Are their rhetorical strategies more or less effective than Savio’s?
  2. While the Free Speech Movement took place on a relatively liberal campus, the broader city- and state-wide environment was undergoing dramatic political and social realignments. Social movement organizations, such as the Black Panthers, were creating new political alliances and bringing new issues to the public’s attention. Research another social movement organization active in Berkeley at the same time as the FSM. How might Savio’s speech and its anti-conformist rhetoric have sounded to these organizations? Could Savio’s speech have created new allies? New opponents?
  3. Research newspaper coverage of the Sproul Hall sit-in from the New York Times and Chicago Tribune How was the incident received in the press? Were some journalists more sympathetic to the movement than others? Are there recurring frames, themes, or connections to other public affairs in these articles?
  4. Read other Mario Savio speeches, such as the “Bodies Upon the Gears” speech. What are some of the differences and similarities to these speeches? Can we determine a “Mario Savio style”? What sort of themes and frequent appeals are there? Other speeches are available at
  5. Watch the documentary Berkeley in the Sixties. Write a paper explaining how the Free Speech Movement is depicted and how it is situated in the larger 1960s protest climate. Does it seem like an objective portrayal?
  6. Read the “Port Huron Statement,” an influential manifesto written by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in 1962. Write about the similarities and differences between this statement and Savio’s speech. Are there similar appeals and rhetorical strategies? Describe the consequences each text has for democratic participation. The “Port Huron Statement” is available at
  7. Read Horace Mann’s speech “The Necessity of Education in a Republican Government” ( Write a paper comparing Savio’s speech with Mann’s. Are there similar rhetorical strategies? Is one speech more effective or persuasive than the other? Is Mann’s or Savio’s vision preferable? Are either visions of education actually possible?

Citizenship Resources

  1. Analyze more recent speeches concerning public education found at the US Department of Education’s website ( How do Savio’s ideas compare to current educational debates, such as those stemming from “No Child Left Behind” and “Common Core”? Do any of these speeches share themes or rhetorical appeals from Savio’s speech?
  2. Many contemporary movements draw off of the same impassioned and anti-conformist rhetoric as Mario Savio’s speech exhibited. Analyze current uses of Savio’s rhetoric, such as the Occupy Wall Street’s collective recitations of his speeches ( and discuss ways in which Savio’s rhetoric is able to transcend his own 1960s context and resonate with current activists. Is there a similar rhetoric in other predominantly youth-led movements, such as Occupy Wall Street? What are major similarities and differences? What does this say about current attitudes toward youth, conformity, and authority? Does Savio’s speech seem relatable and/or persuasive to you currently?
  3. Research your university’s current free speech and demonstration policies. Discuss if you think these are fair or too restrictive. What are the consequences/limitations for public rhetoric?
  4. The “Black Lives Matters” movement has a significant presence on US campuses. Read newspaper articles and editorials on “Black Lives Matters” campus protests, particularly the “die-in” tactic. Discuss the relationship such protests have to past student movements, to the right to free speech, and to current social, cultural, and political debates in the US.