July 1, 2009

Budget cuts kill public speaking classes

There are certain classes we all took in high school and college that we never would have taken if it were up to us. Many of us struggled through math or science or history or English, but in the long run we've understood why those classes were important, and we've integrated the knowledge and skills into our daily lives and work.

I was reading about a school board budget debate recently and the chairperson of the school board said this:

"I'm not sure we need drama, debate and public speaking."

These were all courses with low enrollment, so the school board was recommending cutting them.

First of all, I'm impressed that this school even offers public speaking. Most students don't get this opportunity until college, if at all.

However, I can understand why the public speaking classes have low enrollment. People are scared of public speaking! Teens are especially insecure in front of their peers and the thought of standing in front of the room and giving a speech is not at all appealing.

And most young people are not looking ahead to how their classes will help them in the future. They're just trying to do whatever they have to do to graduate. If public speaking isn't mandatory, most kids are not going to seek out this class.

If I had my way, public speaking would be mandatory in schools. Because just about every single thing we have to do in our lives involves public speaking. Most people will participate in a job interview (or 50). Most of us will have to speak up in a meeting at some point (or hundreds). Most of us will have to convince, persuade or influence another person one day.

Public speaking is as universally necessary a skill as knowing how to read or multiply. Yet in many cases, public speaking training is seen as a luxury, a frivolous extra.

I suppose most teachers could find a way to include public speaking instruction as part of their classes. And that would be ideal, incorporating it into many different aspects of education in the same way we face public speaking in many aspects of our lives.

Then again, those teachers would all have to know how to teach public speaking, wouldn't they? And from personal experience and long-term memory of monotonous, droning teachers, that's quite a stretch.

If schools started teaching public speaking in the elementary years, we might actually catch kids before they develop self-consciousness and fear of speaking in front of a group.

What do you think about including public speaking in schools? What would be the best way to incorporate it so every student has a chance to learn?

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7 comments. Please add yours! :

David Portney said...

Hi Lisa,

I think it's a bit delicate to *require* any public speaking classes because as you pointed out, in younger years the opinions of our peers is so highly important because during that phase of our development we shift our identification patterns away from parents/teachers/elders etc. and identify almost exclusively with our peers as a part of normal human development.

That said, you're "preaching to the choir" in my case because I believe that the value of public speaking skills - especially developed early on - can provide so many benefits in a plethora of contexts later in life (as you pointed out, job interviews, etc.) and it's a terrific all-around confidence builder.

Bottom line, if I had to choose, the fact is that sure there could be some "trauma" (to use a pretty strong word) for young people to *have to* stand up and speak in front of their peers whether they want to or not, but given the proper public speaking training, allowing them to slowly build up skill and not just "toss them into the deep end", there's no doubt in my mind that public speaking training in school could and would provide tremendous value to students and should be something not cut as seemingly unnecessary... hey, it's much more likely that those students will use public speaking skills in their adult life than algebra!

David Portney

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for your comments, David. It's true that young people are very sensitive at that age, and if we can find a way to "ease" them into public speaking, either when they're young enough not to be self-conscious, or in baby steps at the middle school/high school years, it will be so beneficial to them in later life.

I didn't want to offend any math fanatics, but it's true that I use calculus far less than communication skills. :-)

Freddie Daniells said...

Hi Lisa: I agree with you. It is a life skill many more times useful than some of the other stuff that does get taught at school.

FYI in London, UK there is a programme that gives this tuition to children aged 14-15. This is funded by a welathy businessman who wishes he had been given this training when he was at school. You can find details at www.speakoutchallenge.com.

I have helped run a few of these days training and it is my experience that the kids love it. Although many face the fear at the beginning of the day they are flying by the end.

Indeed, this programme, recently spawned a BBC series called The Speaker that was an X-Factor meets Speaking type of show.

Thought you may be interested!

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks, Fred. I heard about the show, but not the program. I'll check it out.

Greg Friese said...

In a junior high English class I had to give a demonstration speech. I demonstrated how to properly dunk an Oreo cookie in a carton of milk. I vividly remember that my hands were shaking so extremely that milk splashed all over the table as I attempted to place the cookie in the milk container. Wow was I nervous. But the experience was invaluable. 20+ years later I don't have many other vivid junior high memories so that event must have had a significant impact.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Wow, what a vivid memory! And what a great idea for a demonstration; I never knew there was a proper way to dunk an Oreo. :-)

I think we're affected by experiences in mysterious ways, and not always the way we would expect!

Andy said...

I agree, encouraging students to practice public speaking early on will certainly have a positive affect later on.

We have a great course that teaches people how to remove their speaking fears and deliver a polished presentation - http://highimpactspeaking.

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