Talking to Strangers

So, the Kid is easing into classes at the local community college, with plans for taking the fall semester part-time and working. The inevitable What-To-Take? question came up, with the idea being that a couple of classes should be general-education requirements, and the third something personally interesting. Well, I said, you should see what courses are required for an Associate’s Degree. (A 2-year general education diploma, which can transfer to a four-year degree elsewhere).

This is all well and fine, and various categorical listings are perused until realisation set in: some kind of Oral Communications credit is needed, such as Interpersonal Communications or Public Speaking classes. Oh noes!

Why do I have to have a speaking class? complained the Kid.

To be sure, many people dread taking their college Public Speaking class. Psychologists tell us that a dread of speaking to large groups of strangers is common, right up there with a fears of heights, spiders, or thunderstorms. Then again, the average citizen did not have a preliminary diagnosis of Social Phobia.

I remembered the teacher’s comments on the Kid’s earlier oral presentations in school: Need to make eye contact. Remember to speak up. Use gestures, interact with the audience. Those comments had stuck in my mind, as about that time in history I was beginning to put things together and wonder if my own kid didn’t have a bit of Asperger’s. Sure, there was eye contact with family and the couple friends. But the general hanging quietly around the edges of large family gatherings was long ingrained, and by secondary school the strong reticence for striking up conversations with strangers or for joining school or civic clubs, was both inhibiting and inhibited by social interaction.

I also remembered these same types of comments on my own class presentation grade sheets, back when I was in primary and secondary school. I offered up some personal history, I remember taking Public Speaking when I was just a clerk, and I could not imagine when I would ever have to give a talk, much less who I would give it to, or what I would talk about. Of course, I have since given presentations to groups of hundreds, and been doing public speaking for over 15 years. Life has a way of zig-zagging and putting one in unexpected situations, where any previous skills may suddenly be useful.

But teens don’t find such parent comments to be useful; they’re always stories from Long Ago And Far Away, and have no conceivable bearing on the teen’s own future life. Such are the limitations of teen perceptions of both personal histories and of the possibilities of Life in general.

The Kid looked through the rest of the general education requirements, and under the Social Sciences section, came up with an introductory course in Economics. (I had always considered Econ to be within the realm of Maths, but I wasn’t the one making these lists up.) Econ was full of equations and would be easier for the Kid to digest conceptually than all those inscrutable sociological subjects. Okay, I replied, Econ is good; it will transfer anywhere. And for the personal interest course?

The introductory computer game design class, came the answer.

Of course; silly question. What else has the Kid been focused on for years now, but all flavors of card and video and online gaming, including working up the algorithms, character weightings, and testing of a home-made card game.

Then I had a brain-flash, You know, if you’re taking this class, why don’t you see what Associates degree program it goes with? You don’t have to do the whole program — you can try it and see if that’s what you want. But it would make sense to see what the requirements are for the program, so you don’t take stuff that doesn’t work toward it.

This made sense; who wants to take extra classes they don’t need? We noodled around and found the program, and looked over the requirements, noting that this class was one of the prerequisites necessary before even applying for the program, and —

OH! Hey, look! I pointed out to the Kid — There are no oral communication course requirements!

Someone out there realised that geeks are not going to want to take such classes, and found other courses more suitable to their future careers. Oh, happy day! Further examination of the requirements meant dropping and adding various classes, until a workable combination of time slots and still-open sessions was created. We also toured the bookstore to see how bad the damage to the pocketbook would be, and were delighted to find that the three classes would require no more than $100 of books, which is about half of what most courses require. At last, the Kid had enrolled in classes for the fall semester, and even found a career goal to try out.

And a class in Public Speaking is not even required.


  1. qw88nb88 said,

    20 June 2008 at 14:11

    Catana said, “Gotta love those BS requirements.”

    Now, would BS stand for Bachelor of Science, or BullShit? (grin)

    I’m sorry to hear that your teacher had not learned the distinction between giving a critique and criticising people! Students will be much more inclines to put effort into a class and improving their abilities when given helpful, objective instruction, rather than cutting them down. Doing so in front of their peers only magnifies the qualms many people have about public speaking!


  2. saydrah said,

    18 June 2008 at 22:12

    I hated my public speaking class, but I like public speaking. The teacher was just terrible. Made fun of students’ work from other classes in front of students, so every time I had an assignment, I was afraid the other classes would be hearing her mocking MY work next period.

  3. Emily said,

    18 June 2008 at 21:34

    Glad you guys were able to find a good program! Luckily I didn’t have to take a Public Speaking class for my college program either, I definitely wouldn’t have enjoyed it. I don’t mind speaking in front of other people, but in a classroom it always felt uncomfortable to me, especially having to make a speech.

  4. Catana said,

    18 June 2008 at 14:25

    Gotta love those BS requirements.

    “Then again, the average citizen did not have a preliminary diagnosis of Social Phobia.” And the average citizen is never going to have to stand up in front of a group and make a presentation or give a speech.

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