Teaching Public Speaking again this Fall

I have accepted an offer to teach Public Speaking again this Fall. This first experience, this Summer, has been a learning experience for me, particularly in what has troubled many professors I’ve spoken with.

It is said, that at CSU East Bay, students at the freshman level do not engage their professors, that class interaction is virtually nil. It is said they do not attend class. My favorite professor warned that I would be surprised by how many students will be satisfied with a C. In my experience so far, all of these things are true.

I have also observed that there are many students taking course loads I would never contemplate; university has become something to be gotten through as quickly as possible, incurring as little student loan debt as possible, and the general education classes are simply a distraction from the “important” classes in their majors. These are not students who give every class their best effort because they are taking too many classes.

These students have, I believe, apprehended that there is a growing gap between rich and poor, and that there is no hope that they can be on the winning side of that divide without a college degree. They hope the degree will entitle them to a rank above the working class in the corporate hierarchy.

I’m reading Seducing the Demon, a memoir by Erica Jong. In her introduction, she writes:

What use is a writer if she doesn’t rile people up? What use is a teacher if he isn’t made to drink hemlock in the end? In the olden days, they threw writers into oubliettes and eventually condemned them to death. Witches–any woman who questioned the status quo–were burned at the stake.

As I watch my students coming in late, or sometimes not coming in at all, and evading their speeches, I know that this is a class I have not persuaded. It is a class that still devalues a liberal education, an education intended to prepare them for civic engagement. The status quo is, for them, something in which they hope to find a place. It is not something to challenge. At most, there are one or two witches in this class, waiting to burn at the stake. But it is the witch in each of my students I hope to awake, and the witch that deserves an A. And it will be my task to see that they earn those A’s.

I will be teaching section 06, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, from 10:40-11:50. As before, the text will be A Pocket Guide to Public Speaking, by Dan O’Hair, Hannah Rubenstein, and Rob Stewart, the second edition, published in 2007, in Boston, by Bedford/St. Martin’s. I also recommend Concise Rules of APA Style, published in 2005, in Washington, D.C., by the American Psychological Association.

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