The Importance of Teaching Public Speaking in Schools

When I tell friends that I was on my high school’s speech and debate team, and that more specifically, I did something called extemporaneous speaking—a category where I had to make and then deliver a speech on a current events topic I drew in just half an hour—they tend to be horrified at the thought of trying to do the same thing, impressed that I was able to do this, or a little bit of both. Then, when I add that this experience with speech and debate significantly improved my comfort level with public speaking, some of the people who hear this say that they are so terrified of public speaking.

And it’s not just anecdotal experience that has shown me that a lot of us are afraid of public speaking. A survey of Americans’ top fears in 2020-21 found that 29% were either afraid or very afraid of public speaking. Another way to put this into context is that there are about as many Americans likely to be afraid of public speaking as they are of dying, theft of property, or being unemployed.[1] Our society, on average, is literally as fearful of public speaking as of dying. Let that sink in.

In spite of that fear, public speaking is an important aspect of the daily lives of most people of professional importance. Elected officials, major company CEOs, teachers and professors, nonprofit leaders, influential small business owners, clergy people, newscasters, and athletes are all among the groups of people who find themselves doing public speaking with some frequency. The professions that some, or many, of us aspire to involve some form of public speaking—the very thing that terrifies so many of us as well.

To make those aspirations a more feasible reality for those of us who fear public speaking, I think that public speaking needs to be a part of every high school’s curriculum. Not college—high school. It should be in the curriculum at that level because not everyone completes college, and not everyone even goes to college. Some people end up in positions straight out of high school where the skill of communicating clearly through word of mouth, which is something that comes with learning how to be a good public speaker, is absolutely vital. If we were to wait until college, people who end up in the military straight out of high school (the military being one such position where good communication skills are vital), to use one example, might not be as well-equipped with a public speaking skillset as they would otherwise if it were taught in high school.

As to how it is in the curriculum, it can take multiple forms. Classes with projects where students have to present their projects in front of a class might be a healthy way to give students exposure to public speaking, even if the focus of the class itself isn’t public speaking per se. However, I think that there can (and probably should) be a public speaking class that is a required part of every high school’s curriculum, for every student—not just a speech and debate team that students can choose to either join or not join.

Perhaps, by making sure that every student gets exposed with the opportunity to learn how to perfect their public speaking skills, we can better ensure that public speaking is not a fear that acts as a mental block to pursuing the things some of us hope to do one day.


What Is…Critical Race Theory? (Part Two)

In Part One of my “what is” post on Critical Race Theory (CRT), I covered what the theory is, as well as some interesting things I learned about the theory. However, at the end of Part One, I talked about some questions raised by both CRT and the things I learned from it. Those questions include:

  • What are people angry about with CRT in the current political discourse?
  • If this theory has been around for decades, why are people only now getting angry about this?
  • Why is it conservatives who are getting angry about CRT when many of the most prominent critical race theorists critique liberal approaches to racism?
  • Is this anger justified?

Answers to the first, second, and third questions I pose here help us answer the fourth question, so grab some popcorn, and let’s get started…

A fair bit of the attention on CRT appears to stem from one person: Christopher Rufo. Rufo, who is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute (a conservative think tank), heard from municipal employees in Seattle, Washington about anti-bias workforce training[1] that he perceived to go too far. He summarized those findings in an article for the City Journal, the Manhattan Institute’s magazine. The article was a major hit and led to discoveries from him about similar trainings happening elsewhere.[2] Among the things he noticed from the trainings was that they cited people who were deeply involved in scholarship related to CRT. Rufo thought that in CRT, he found the perfect term, for as he put it himself, “Its connotations are all negative to most middle-class Americans, including racial minorities, who see the world as ‘creative’ rather than ‘critical,’ ‘individual’ rather than ‘racial,’ ‘practical’ rather than ‘theoretical.’ Strung together, the phrase ‘critical race theory’ connotes hostile, academic, divisive, race-obsessed, poisonous, elitist, anti-American.” Furthermore, he concluded, it is not “an externally applied pejorative” unlike some terms (think of the term “liberal snowflakes” as an example of an externally applied pejorative), but is instead “the label the critical race theorists chose themselves.”[3]

Rufo was correct in thinking he found the perfect term (at least from the standpoint of trying to get national attention), for his work continued getting attention to the point that he appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight in September 2020—a show in which Rufo called on then-President Donald Trump to ban CRT in workforce trainings the federal government did. Within weeks, Trump did exactly what Rufo wanted him to do.[4]

However, Trump lost re-election. But just because Trump lost doesn’t mean that the movements on CRT from the American right ended—not by any means. Instead, the attention that Rufo and others had on CRT shifted from workforce trainings to K-12 classrooms.[5] This brings us to more or less where we are today on CRT, which is that there is a fear among many on the American right that the theory rewrites American history in a way that would “persuade white people that they are inherently racist and should feel guilty because of their advantages.”[6] The center of that concern about the rewriting of American history focuses on the classroom, with the concern that young kids would be indoctrinated in this seemingly harmful way by CRT. Now, even the slightest bit of concern that kids are being “indoctrinated” with CRT creates anger among some.

But is this anger justified?

This answer is going to upset some people, but…no.

Here’s the thing about CRT and K-12 schools: for all the chatter of CRT being taught to schoolchildren, the teaching of the theory is usually not required at the K-12 level.[7] In a survey of more than 1,100 teachers across the United States conducted by the Association of American Educators, which is a nonpartisan professional group for educators, it was found that 96% of respondents say that their schools do not require them to teach CRT.[8] Instead, the teaching that does happen on CRT largely occurs in law schools and graduate programs.[9] Needless to say, the panicked rhetoric on CRT in K-12 schools just doesn’t seem to match up with what is happening on the ground.

What I’m guessing (and perhaps my guess is wrong, as I am not a teacher myself) is that the rhetoric with CRT has gotten mixed in there with larger, yet important, discussions on how classrooms should navigate through topics of race and racism in classrooms—a hot-button discussion issue in light of the events of the last few years in America, ranging from the increased visibility of white supremacy to the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others. Such discussions are important and needed, though even without CRT in the mix these discussions would be a source of major division. But I fear that heading into such discussions with the falsehood that CRT is being taught and is indoctrinating K-12 students only makes those already difficult conversations even more so.

Those conversations need to happen, though. They need to happen because there continue to be stark racial disparities in the United States, and they should not be ignored. The racial disparities in everything from incarceration rates[10] to educational attainment,[11] from health care coverage[12] to deaths from gun violence,[13] are so great that we would be doing an injustice to ourselves and others if we were to just try to sweep such disparities under the rug. One can debate when to have these conversations with schoolkids, and how to have them, but we would not be truthful as a country about our current disparities if we never had those conversations anywhere.



[3] Ibid.




[7] A Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 22% of respondents who said they were familiar with CRT (and most poll respondents said they weren’t familiar with CRT) believed that it is taught in most public high schools:







Coronavirus Update From New York City: September 30, 2021

I hope that all of my readers are remaining safe, regardless of where you are.

On a personal level, the news about Moderna booster shots is big, as I have some family members who took the Moderna vaccine who would be eligible to get a booster shot. Though alas, I am on Team Pfizer so the time has not come (yet) for me to get a booster. As soon as I am eligible for one (assuming the science says that people who got the Pfizer two-dose should get a third dose), I hope to get one, though.

The biggest news out of my area this week has been over vaccine mandates, for both New York City’s Department of Education (DOE) employees and for health care workers in New York State.

The vaccine mandates for DOE employees has been subject to legal challenges, but as of the time of my writing, it looks like the mandates will go into effect at 5 PM this Friday. I hear that there’s a last-ditch effort for the vaccine mandate to be appealed to the United States Supreme Court, though I would be somewhat surprised if the Supreme Court blocked it–Justice Amy Coney Barrett turned away a challenge to a vaccine mandate at Indiana University (not to be confused with University of Indiana), so if that’s any indication, it seems like even the conservative Supreme Court justices have little appetite to take up anti-vaccine mandate cases. I support this mandate, because ultimately DOE needs to look out for the best interests of those most vulnerable in their system: unvaccinated kids under the age of 12 who cannot get vaccinated at this point. A public school system of teachers and other faculty who are fully vaccinated (with exemptions for extremely limited religious and medical reasons, of course) is a system that is looking out for those unvaccinated little kids. There is some concern as to what schools will do when confronted with teachers who remain unvaccinated, in spite of the mandates. While that is an understandable concern, I still remain hopeful that the majority of currently unvaccinated teachers will get vaccinated when push comes to shove, and that in the cases where there are teachers who continue to remain unvaccinated, there will be enough vaccinated substitute teachers to step in. We’ll know by this time next week, unless I am wrong in my prediction about what the Supreme Court will do, about whether I was correct to be hopeful.

The vaccine mandate for health care workers in New York State is already in effect, and there are reports of some hospitals taking a hard line on unvaccinated health care workers, even firing some of the unvaccinated.[1] In cases where there are staffing shortages at hospitals, people from the National Guard are stepping in. I support this mandate as well. Given the tragic consequences of not being diligent enough with how we care for COVID, I personally am led to be on the side of being more rather than less diligent, including with vaccinations for our health care workers. The side of being more diligent means health care workers getting vaccinated, with some rare exceptions.

Mandates aside, the virus seems to be spreading at more or less a steady rate in my area.[2] This gives me hope that we have weathered the potential storm of schools getting started, though honestly, even if it were a storm, at least the New York City area would’ve started with a decent amount of capacity in our ICUs in order to manage it. The fact that we have weathered this also gives me hope that maybe, just maybe, the spread of the virus will slow down some more.

Speaking of ICUs, I must continue to say that thankfully, the horror stories of ICUs at capacity still do not exist in the New York City area. As of last Tuesday, only 60% of ICU beds are filled.[3] This stands in stark contrast with the parts of the country that have lower vaccination rates than New York City and higher occupancy of ICU beds (still to the point of medical care being rationed in the most extreme of cases). I genuinely hope and pray for those of my readers in those parts of the country and world where there aren’t many, if any, available ICU beds for other COVID patients.

So, that is it for me for now. Feel free to leave comments below about the situation I describe in New York, the situation with COVID in the United States, and/or the situation where you are!



[3] Ibid.

Coronavirus Update From New York City: September 23, 2021

I hope all of my readers are safe, regardless of where you are.

The virus in my part of the world is, more or less, spreading at a constant rate, as cases are showing a stable trend, as opposed to one where cases are significantly increasing or decreasing.[1] I really would like my city and region to get better control of the virus, but honestly, I’m not sure how much of that is a priority at the moment compared to getting things back “to normal” (whatever normal is).

Part of that “normal” (or at least a modified one) is a major event that is pretty much on my doorstep: the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). I am a five-minute walk from the United Nations, so I see a lot of people related to UNGA around me when I am heading to and from work, whether it be press, protestors, police, or dignitaries. Worse yet, some world leaders have largely been ignoring safety protocols related to the Coronavirus, raising concerns about whether UNGA may itself be a super spreader event.[2] I hope that UNGA is not a super spreader event, even more so because it is right in the neighborhood where I work, but I have concerns it may be one.

Another part of that “normal” has been the reopening of schools. Schools have been open for nearly two weeks now, more or less. I say “more or less” because public schools in New York, which have schools closed on Jewish holidays, were closed for one day because of Yom Kippur. Thus far, one school in the city has had to go fully remote for a period of time (10 days) due to the virus.[4] When this school went remote, it made the national news because it was the first school in the nation’s largest school district to have to go remote due to the virus. However, less covered is the fact that there are many hundreds of places in New York where there are partial or complete classroom closures due to the Coronavirus–over 1,300 of them, as of the time of my writing this.[5] To put this into context, there are 1,876 schools in the DOE system, which means that COVID is so widespread in DOE schools that we have nearly .7 classroom closures (full or partial) for every school in the system. I definitely continue to be concerned about COVID spread in schools.

At the same time schools are reopened and in-person again, restaurants are now required to have those interested in dining indoors show their proof of vaccination. And it has already resulted in a hostess on the Upper West Side in New York City getting beat up by three tourists from Texas over having to show proof of vaccination status.[6] I hope that these incidents don’t happen with frequency now that there restaurants whose staffs in certain parts of the country are now required to ask for vaccine proof. But regardless of whether attacks like what happened on the Upper West Side become more common, I certainly hope that the attack I talked about can serve as a reminder, to all of us, to be kind to our service workers during a really difficult time.

As far as ICUs are concerned, 40% of ICU beds are still available in my region (the New York City Metro).[3] This continues to thankfully buck the trend in certain parts of the United States when it comes to running out of ICU beds and even ration medical care (which I am hearing more and more about in certain parts of the country). I mention this so that people are aware that if they hear stories about parts of the country where ICU beds are in a desperate shape, the part of the country that I am in is, thankfully, not one of them. That being said, we were one of those areas at the very beginning of the pandemic, back in Spring of 2020, so perhaps I have an inkling of what people in places like Florida and Idaho are going through right now (except for the whole vaccine part–there was no vaccine available to keep one from getting ill back in Spring of 2020 when New York was slammed; now there are vaccines and many who end up on the hospital were ones who refused to get vaccinated).

So, that is a summary of where things are where I am. As always, I am happy to hear how others are doing!







What Is…the School-to-Prison Pipeline?

What appears to be a photo of someone in a prison.

In a post I made a couple of months ago about policing and schools with majority-minority populations, one of the replies to my post reminded me of how there was a connection between what I talked about and something called the “school-to-prison pipeline.” And, it is indeed the case that there is a connection between the post I wrote about a couple of months ago and the school-to-prison pipeline.

But what it is the school-to-prison pipeline?

In short, it is “a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.”[1] This trend, which some kids from disadvantaged backgrounds are particularly vulnerable to (hence, this is an issue that often disproportionately affects kids of color and kids with mental health issues, to name two particular populations), involves isolating and punishing kids who cause trouble in school, in the process pushing them out of school and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. In many such cases, various educational and counseling services might be most warranted, but instead students are often isolated and punished.

Some issues that lead to the school-to-prison pipeline include, but are not limited, to:

  • Zero-tolerance policies, which impose severe punishments upon students regardless of circumstances. Such policies are often punitive to the point that the punishment does not fit the crime. Such policies can push students out of the “school” part of the school-to-prison pipeline.
  • Police officers at schools, who are often responsible for policing the hallways at schools—a role usually reserved for teachers and school administrators. This can lead to something called school-based arrests—an issue that happens with some frequency.[2] Worse yet, these arrests can happen on quite a few occasions for minor behaviors,[3] issues that might not have resulted in arrest were it not for police officers at schools.
  • A lack of resources for many schools, which means that the extra educational support or counseling support that a troubled student might need is not available. Because of that lack of availability to such vital services (and generally the lack of ability some schools have in providing vital services), students can be at an increased risk for dropping out and for future legal involvement.[4]

So how do we address this pipeline?

For one thing, I think we need to go back to a question I asked in my previous blog post on policing and schools with majority-minority populations: Should we really have police officers in schools? I know that “abolish the police” is a controversial idea, but if police in schools don’t protect the schools, don’t protect the students at the schools, and mostly serve as a major enabler in the school-to-prison pipeline, then I honestly think that law enforcement at schools is doing way more harm than good. One other thing I will add is that if there must be law enforcement in schools (and I’m not convinced personally that it is something we must have), I think it is a must that said law enforcement is competent in interacting with kids the age that they’re supposed to work with and protect.

For another thing, zero-tolerance policies need to be reevaluated. Not all actions should receive the same punishment. Creating an environment of restorative justice (repairing the harm caused by the crime, as well as giving the offender the opportunity to do better in the future) as opposed to punitive justice (punishing the offender severely, regardless of the severity of the crime) gives an opportunity for people to learn from their mistakes, not to mention that it creates an environment likely to decrease the chances of seeing the school-to-prison pipeline come to fruition.

Last, but not least, in cases where local municipalities are unable to provide the resources needed for schools to be well-resourced, I think that states and the federal government need to step in and make sure said schools and school districts are properly resourced. A significant piece of school funding relies on local property taxes,[5] which means that if you live in an area where property values are depressed, then revenue from property taxes is depressed. This creates a ripple effect which leads to school funding in a district also being depressed. Depressed school funding, in turn, results in a lack of access to many resources for the students who need them the most.

The school-to-prison pipeline is shameful. Hopefully, in my lifetime, progress can be made to address this problem.


[2] There were nearly 70,000 such arrests nationwide in the 2013-14 school year. I would like to see more current data, but this number gives us a sense of how much of a problem this was, as of a few years ago: