It’s been a little while since my last post so I thought I’d take the time to update on what’s been happening. Excitingly the book is now printed and I’m the proud owner of several paperbacks with my name written all over them, which is precisely as exciting as I had hoped it would be… (https://www.amazon.co.uk/deserve-complete-university-statement-interview/dp/1911383124/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1508318300&sr=8-1&keywords=is+your+school+lying+to+you) but more than that I have been very busy working on a new project.
Last week saw my business partner and I working at a school in an under-privileged area and establishing a debating society. One of the very first questions we asked was why the students thought it would be a good thing to do and what they hoped to get from it. I was by turns delighted and saddened by the responses I got. The ones that filled me with happiness ranged from ambitious statements about learning how to better equip and express themselves in service of their futures to enjoying being ‘right’ but others talked about it being a necessary skill to convince the police of their innocence should they find themselves in a sticky situation. These are 11 and 12 year olds.
The reason we were there in the first place was to help aid literacy in the school, the thinking being that by encouraging the students to research an area, formulate an opinion and then find a way to articulate that persuasively and then defend those views would boost an enormous number of soft and hard skills. Skills that could impact in a meaningful way on not just their future prospects but also over time how they would see themselves. By engaging and besting others in meaningful discourse it has the persuasive benefit of subtly altering how they might see themselves, to see value in what they think, in their opinions and views and consequently in themselves. To have the confidence to speak up in a roomful of people – there’s a statistic, people’s number one fear is public speaking, 2nd is death; if we can teach students at an earlier age the skills to have the composure and confidence to stand up and speak up then that is an invaluable life skill and would hopefully elevate death to its rightful position. More than that though, by giving children the confidence to articulate their views, to give them a platform and by boosting their self esteem hopefully we can forge a generation that doesn’t think in terms of having to avoid arrest and incarceration by means of giving a credible alibi.
The class we worked with had chosen to be there rather than having it imposed upon them and it was genuinely splendid to see such enthusiasm and engagement in an area that was largely unknown to them prior to the session. We did a number of exercises just to get them talking openly about themselves, what they cared about, their interests, their passions and I was impressed by how open they were. In contrast when dealing with sixth form students at a college doing a talk about work experience very few had the nous or courage to speak up and talk about their own passions. One can’t help but wonder if a few more sessions focusing on debating and public speaking at an earlier age would make them less circumspect.
The reason for this post is really to promote the idea of public speaking, oracy, the communication of ideas as a positive tool in the kitbag for students’ futures and not just as a means to avoid prison. Seeing the way the children responded to it has further convinced me there is a place for this kind of non-core activity and learning that carrying a big stick, whilst effective, can never compete with reason and composure. In these Trumpian times that’s perhaps something we should all seek to embrace.