I’m not sure I agree with this. Let me preface this by saying I’m an introvert with anxiety problems and a bit of a stutter, myself. I don’t understand what it’s like to have a fear of public speaking, or a really strong speech impediment, no. I am not completely ignorant, though.
I think teaching kids about public speaking is good. Chances are, whether it’s saying a few words on a special occasion, defending your thesis, or making a full-on speech, we’ll all have to stand up and talk in front of people at some point in our lives. And being a college student, I have sat through a lot of really terrible presentations. And no, I don’t mean the people who were scared shitless. I mean just plain old bad presentations. I guess I would say: public speaking should be taught, but we should stop making presentations a mandatory part of other subjects. Or at least not until students have mastered some skills.
We had a public speaking subject in grade six. We learned about how to talk clearly, what makes a good speech, etc. And we presented. Not on the book we had to read, or some thing we did a project on for science: we were given a loose topic, such as our hobbies, and we picked something that excited us to talk about. And as I recall, we did pretty well. I don’t have a window into the other kid’s heads, it’s true, but we seemed like we survived, and it was also fun getting to know our classmates from the inside a little. I think a class like this, combined with some drama training, could really help people. Regardless of our starting level of fear, feeling like we are competent, feeling like we have the tools to do the job, decreases our anxiety.
It’s a contingency thing, for me: if x happens, what will I do? An example: I have arachnophobia. I avoid situations with spiders like the plague. I don’t want to be anywhere near them; even images of them can make me feel panicked. However, I live in a basement in BC. Spiders happen. A lot. Big ones. And when they do, although sometimes it reduces me to a panicking mess (like the time there was a huge one on the toilet paper-that demotivational poster is NOT FUNNY TO ME >_<), a lot of the time, I just find me a blunt object and smite them. My first strategy is avoidance, but when avoidance becomes impossible, I have a backup plan. Learning some public speaking skills, and also learning some skills to deal with anxiety when it happens, seem necessary precautions for the possibility that you might have to speak in front of people some day.
I know these things are not pleasant for us. I know they are not easy. I know some people will never really be able to do public speaking. I know some people will call me an ableist asshole for this. But I support teaching public speaking in schools. We just need to stop pushing kids up there, and assuming they already know how to do it, or they’ll just figure it out. We need to treat it like a skill that we need to foster in them, teaching it step by step. And maybe we need to talk more explicitly with kids about problems like anxiety, and coping skills for them. Educate teachers so they recognise when a child is truly struggling, and can try and help. We need to stop penalizing students for not being natural-born public speakers, just like we need to stop penalizing them for not being athletes, mathematicians, writers, or anything else. But that doesn’t mean not challenging them.