Last week a teacher in my school stood at the front of the room in front of a group of hopeful, nervous kids and told them that there was ‘no point being clever if you didn’t have the public speaking skills to match’. In his mind, an idea was pointless unless the thinker could verbalise it and present it to a crowd. I spent the entire week being given list upon list every morning of these qualifications I could do, each one of them having a public speaking element and being told each time in a variety of ways that if I was too shy to speak, there was no way I would ever be successful. It’s not just my school either, I see it in each of my siblings’ schools too, and schools seem to have an obsession with kids becoming public speakers.
I have many issues with this; foremost being that it caters perfectly to the extroverted ones and leaves the introverts feeling worthless in the dust. I’ve watched time and time again, nervous classmates being humiliated as they stand up in front of the class; begin shakily reading their speech and break down. My little sister for example has high functioning autism and any time she was asked to speak like that in front of a crowd, she would shut down completely. This public speaking obsession, forces kids through compulsory hellish situations that they dread from the moment it’s announced to the moment of relief when it’s over and they can blend back into the crowd.
Of course there are situations in the work place where you have to speak to a group, maybe at the front of a board room, in a couple job or university interviews but I think the group discussions schools are also eager to ram down our throats suffice for these situations just fine. There are plenty of jobs in which you will never have to stand in front of a hall of people and give a speech; it seems that schools are training kids so that they can all take over as the new Prime Minister instead. The idea that if you lack this public confidence, you will ‘never be successful’ is just narrow minded. There are scientists who change the world quietly with their new medicines without standing on a stage and yelling about it. There are web designers, artists, writers, architects, who go about their work with a small group or alone. Think of Banksy, one of the most famous street artists in the world, and people don’t even know their real identity, never mind a speech.
Instead of teaching kids that speaking when you have something to say gets you far more respect, they are teaching them that to say something, anything, is better than that. We are raising a generation of smiling politicians but we are forgetting to raise a generation of free thinkers, of writers, of introverts. We are teaching kids how to sound impassioned by topics they couldn’t care less about, to memorise a speech in which they score points by moving their hands at the right moment. They are being made to rope learn other people’s ideas and if they trick the listener into thinking they actually care and aren’t just waiting for the ordeal to be over, then it’s a distinction, a pat on the back and a guarantee they will have success in the future.
So, to the introverted, the shy, the observer, the daydreamers who would much rather show their ideas in a variation of creative ways than verbalise them, do not let people belittle you. Don’t let people tell you your strengths are weaknesses. Your ideas can change the world, whether you shout them from the roof tops or not.