Valley Voices

Congratulations to the Orosi, Clovis North speech teams. They soon head to nationals

I taught and coached competitive speech and debate at Hoover High for 28 years. I had considerable success, thanks to the great students I had who took my competitive speech/debate classes. I will always contend that those classes were the best courses for preparation for university studies and life beyond college, and I could back that claim with dozens of former students who would tell anyone the best class they took in high school to prepare them for college and life beyond was speech/debate. I spent an average 20 weekends per year at speech and debate tournaments. And 17 times I spent a week after school was out in June at a national tournament. It was a great experience and a gratifying adventure.

I was amazed at the story about the 10 Orosi-Cutler high school students who have qualified for the national final speech and debate tournament. I can add to that story by noting the Clovis North speech and debate team has also qualified nine students to the national tournament in Dallas in June. The interesting thing about that is Oriosi-Cutler is one of the most poverty impacted schools in the state, and Clovis North is a school in a high income demographic.

larry smith.jpg

Orosi-Cutler is coached by Karson Kalashian, and Clovis North by Chad Hayden. Both are products of outstanding high school programs that existed in the past in Fresno and Clovis. Both are dedicated to the teaching of effective speaking and communication skills and critical and analytical thinking. Unfortunately they represent a diminishing number of teachers who are willing to take on the task of coaching a speech and debate team. The forensic teams have disappeared from Fresno Unified and Clovis schools. During the years I was coaching the schools in FUSD and Clovis were known as powerhouses in speech and debate throughout California, and they were coached by outstanding educators. Today, the number has diminished considerably.

Why is that? First, it is not possible to get a credential to teach speech/debate in California (nor a credential to teach theater or journalism, or what used to be called vocational ed courses) So schools must rely on teachers with credentials in English or social studies who have backgrounds in high school or college competitive speech and debate to accept the teaching/coaching of high school competitive speech and debate programs. Second, when schools interview prospective teachers and ask if the applicant would accept an extra duty assignment as a speech/debate coach, most turn down the opportunity because of the weekends they have to give up or the fact they do not feel qualified to teach competitive speech and debate. Third, schools have basically put all students on a rigid college preparatory track of classes with little or no opportunity to take elective classes, such as speech/debate, or theater, or journalism. That means a competitive speech/debate team becomes an after school extracurricular program, with students and teachers willing to stay after school hours for instruction, preparation, and practice.

We want students to be able to think critically and analytically. We want students to be able to communicate in both their writing skills and their speaking skills. There is not a better course of instruction to teach those skills than the training that goes into speech and debate competition. In an era where people with short attention spans get most of their information on social media, it is crucial that we find a way to teach students to be able to discern between what is fact and what is opinion. It is essential that we teach students to research carefully prior to voicing their thoughts on current events. It is essential that we teach students to learn to craft their written thoughts into words that can be spoken and grasped by an audience. The instruction my students got in research, thinking, writing, and speaking in their speech/debate classes far exceeded that which they received in their core English classes. And they utilized those skills in competition against other outstanding students in tournaments almost weekly.

And as noted, dozens would testify that those competitive preparations and competitive experiences were crucial to their future success is college studies and in their lives post college in their careers.

I heartily commend Karson and Chad for maintaining the concept of teaching students the art of effective communication based on sound research, careful crafting in their writing of speeches, and effective presentation of their ideas. The students they are teaching will be the future leaders of this country.

Larry A. Smith lives in Fresno.