Our schools are failing us: Teach kids public speaking!

January 5, 2011 in Ignite, Rants, Speech by

Isn’t it strange that in school it’s compulsory to learn trigonometry, while public speaking is a voluntary after-school appendage?

Being funny helps

I spoke up in maths and asked the teacher how trigonometry was going to be important in later life. She gave me some strange nonsense story about working out how tall a building was, and then set us all an activity of finding out how we’d do that. I learned my lesson: Teachers don’t like students to question the pointlessness of their existence.

I never used trigonometry. Ever. I forgot everything I knew about it during some post-exam binge drinking. I don’t recall suffering from it, either. I don’t recall being at a job and having someone say ‘Use trigonometry to work out the height of that large pile of stuff’ or being attacked by a mythical beast that could only be conquered by the application of some elegant equations.

The truth is, aside from surveyors, mathematicians, engineers and fictional heroes from maths tuition computer games, nobody needs to use trigonometry, ever.

One thing I was not forced to do as a student was to learn public speaking and communication skills.

I voluntarily took drama and did an after-school Toastmasters course, and I joined the debating team – but these were all optional – unlike bloody trigonometry.

And here’s why it’s a travesty: Anyone who reaches any level of success will do so based upon their ability to communicate, rather than the quality of the ideas they’re communicating. It’s sad but true: Bullshit artists invariably appear to be better qualified for positions of power than shy, mumbling types. That is because regardless of their technical know-how, as you climb the ranks of power, your technical skills become secondary to your ability to motivate other people to measure tall buildings.

Schools don’t teach interview style, public speaking or communication skills, and rarely reward them. They teach kids how to copy achievable results – a remarkably pointless endeavour. Computers can repeat results, in fact that’s all they do reliably well. Google can tell you how to measure buildings, but it takes training, experience, confidence and guts to learn to be a good speaker.

So wake up the schooling system. Stop them from teaching us to imperfectly do what computers already do for us, and focus instead on teaching us to do well what computers may never achieve: To inspire, arouse, amuse and entertain humans.