We have all heard Jerry Seinfeld’s joke: “I read a thing that actually says that speaking in front of a crowd is considered the number one fear of the average person. I found that amazing – number two was death! That means to the average person if you have to be at a funeral, you would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.” His joke based on a simple observation, unfortunately, displays an unfortunate truth, public speaking is a fear of many and the idea of improving the skill is for most a painful obligation.
General Education classes are a collection of credits required by all majors for a degree, they are mandatory and come on top of mandatory major courses that a student has to take. The common consensus is that general education classes are there to broaden a student’s knowledge beyond what is required by a major, but some students see that as a burden.
Students like to envision themselves in the exact job described by their majors, a mathematician, an engineer, an artist, a historian, etc.
not acknowledging the fact that jobs go beyond a description and that the engineer will end up using communication skills with fellow engineers, the mathematician will probably have to present the results of his/her research to committees and that the historian might need to use mathematics skills as part of a proposal or other … The basic skills that Gen Ed classes teach are important to different jobs but don’t simply rely on a discipline.
Its importance is that it creates better-rounded individuals and develop engaged critical-thinkers to become important contributors to society by teaching routine skills.
Students pay huge amounts of money for tuition and are continually connected to learning, either throughout the college, workplace or life. But also, most seek an education in hopes for a good job after graduation, therefore, students don’t only need answers to tests, but they need to be positioned to have and be able to use the knowledge that they acquire in college in the world and be shaped into well-rounded individuals that are going to thrive in the future. When choosing a major a lot of students concentrate on the major itself that they overlook the importance of general skills, for instance, problem-solving, communicating and analyzing that are essential when entering the workforce.We tend as students to choose a major that reflects our strengths, but exposure to other fields rather than the one we choose to study would help us get out of our comfort zones and try new things that have proved to be beneficial to our professional life.
It also allows undecided majors to do some discovering and decide on what would reflect their strengths. Lately, Gen Ed classes have been receiving a lot of criticism and a big call for their discontinuation, but as Paul Hanstedt, an English Professor and the general education director at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia, states: “the biggest problem with gen eds is not the courses themselves but the fact that the importance of these courses isn’t self-evident to students.”
Public Speaking is one of the Gen Ed classes that have been widely criticized and has been called to be discontinued. As a graduate student at the Wichita State University, I think this would be a wrong decision for many reasons that will be discussed below. Top-tier rejection of rhetorical instruction in the form of Public Speaking showcases the failure to understand the importance of rhetoric in the undergraduate system. Up until the beginning of the 20th century, rhetoric was the most important course of study, ancient Greeks valued Public political participation and Sophists disputed that rhetoric could be used as a means of communicating any expertise. Rhetoric is the most important course of study in Ancient Greek and if found to be a good Sophist, rhetorically trained and a well-spoken, the individual would have been made Plato’s philosopher-king.
Rhetoric, as professional life martial art, is still urgently important for undergraduate education. Richard Weaver noted that “whereas once intellectual giants, men of subtle reasoning and wit, taught rhetoric, now it is taught by ‘beginners, part-time teachers, graduate students, faculty wives, and various fringe people….’ (1970). Being an ex-Graduated-teaching-assistant myself I argue that students are taught by instructors that have been educated in Public Speaking and that classes merely give students the opportunity to stand in front of other and speak uninterrupted. I still required my students to analyze and adapt to their audience and their feedback, organize their speeches depending on the type of speech, using evidence, meeting the burden of proof, using emotional and logical appeal, deliver effectively, using good eye contact, body language and voice projection amongst many others and using visual aids appropriately.
When I was creating my syllabus (which matched other GTA’s syllabuses) two-thirds of the semester was spent in a way where students could stand up and express themselves in public (either through formal prepared speeches, impromptus or class activities). For those who argue against public speaking classes, it is important to mention that practice opportunities outside of the classroom are irregular to seldom. Public speaking is also a skill that you learn rather than born with, and the public speaking classes provide an opportunity for students that are just as nervous to work together in a journey to improve themselves into better communicators.
Some suggest that class presentations should be enough but let’s be wary of oversimplifying the solution as having students merely make a class presentation. PowerPoint presentations don’t help students master basic skills especially for those who don’t have public speaking skills to start with leading to presentations with no substance, no support or insight, no appeal emotional or logical which would lead to students who are technically qualified in their fields but can’t articulate what they do in public. According to John McWhorter in /Doing Our Own Thing: “The Degradation of Language and Music and Why We Should, Like, Care/. Americans are becoming steadily less articulate, and the universities are fully complicitous. Tyrants seek to destroy a culture through the obliteration of its language; we have simply relinquished ours.”
In the end, general education requirements and Public speaking classes alike are all about preparing students for the unknown. A recent study shows that the average person will change careers 5-7 times in their working life that 30% of the workforce will now change jobs every 12months according to career change statistics. The purpose of these programs is to provide students with knowledge that will be directly applied to any field of work but can’t be found in the textbook. Many arguments can be found against the importance of the public speaking classes, but businesses everywhere of different type would regularly host public speaking training, and it comes as no surprise to see that on average the people who are most skilled at Public Speaking are the ones who hold the most important positions in a firm (CEO, VP, CFO … ) as they are equipped to present their knowledge.
Students need also a competitive edge, being a young professional myself and working as a recruiter, my communication skills are used in everyday situations, but in the competitive workforce we find ourselves students need an edge. I have personally found out that students that have taken public speaking classes and have gone on to take other classes to sharpen communication and public speaking skills, for instance, The Professional Edge at WSU, were better conversationalists and their ability to communicate helped drive their success.
Arguments have been made for students with anxiety, it is important to mention that a lot of public speaking teachers are wary of the emotional burden it might cause students with anxiety and work with them on overcoming it. Teachers are more concerned with seeing an improvement in their students as everyone is aware there is no perfect public speaker. To sum up, this paper presents arguments against discontinuing Public Speaking as a gen-ed class at WSU for its many benefits. Public speaking classes not only help to conquer the fear of public speaking in front of others but also benefit educational growth for communicators and non-communicators alike and help shape students into well-rounded individuals beyond what their majors require. The journey doesn’t stop at taking public speaking classes but surely starts there.