The art of rhetoric is considered by many to be a lost art. Presentation literacy is equated with giving public speaking assignments in many schools rather than deliberately honing in on how to prepare to speak and effectively deliver a talk. In the Martian Classroom, students learn to communicate and use their voice to make an impact, both in-person and through technology to share ideas globally. The leaders in a Martian Classroom know that it is irresponsible to give a public speaking assignment without first creating a safe environment for students to share ideas, discussing how to calm the nerves and channel fear into creative energy, and going over all of the “what if’s” that can cause a student to have a dreadful experience when speaking in front of a crowd. Nevermind creating great content that makes the audience want to hear more!
What if Martin Luther King had not had the courage to stand up and say something when it mattered most? His, "I Have a Dream," speech was powerful because of his confidence, his message, and his ability to connect with his audience. That is the power we give to students when we equip them with the belief that their ideas matter, and with the toolset to share their message in a way that makes an impact.
In Chris Hadfield’s TED Talk, "What I Learned from Going Blind in Space," he shares his experience of learning how to deal with fear versus danger, and how preparing for every worst-case scenario prior to going into space enabled him to calmly work through temporarily going blind while in space while outside on his first spacewalk. He then compares this to how we view any perceived danger, such as going blind in space, and how to think through the real risks to change how you perceive a situation. Now, this is the type of conversation that can not only change a Martian’s view of public speaking but turn a terrifying experience instead into an exciting opportunity. When the Gen Mars in your classroom are able to conquer this fear at a young age, they are able to communicate ideas that can change the world around them, and communicate these ideas in a powerful way.
The ideas that have changed the course of history would have died if not communicated in a way that garnered the support and buy-in of others. John F. Kennedy rallied the backing of a nation through his skillful ability to communicate the lunar plan, not only to Congress but to future generations who still look back at his timeless speech as inspiration.
Selling the plan to Congress and the American people required a feat of rhetoric that matched the cause. Remarkably, Kennedy turned the occasion, at the height of the Cold War, into an argument for peace. Instead of beating the Russians with weapons, America would turn an enemy into a rival. We would vault past the Russians and go all the way to the Moon. Kennedy had pivoted with remarkable speed; he pitched his argument to Congress just five months after taking office.
Then, in September 1962, he gave his famous Moon speech at Rice University. The school had helped arrange the donation of land near Houston, Texas, to establish a space center, a generous nod to Kennedy’s Texan, space-loving vice president. Addressing a crowd of 35,000 in the Rice football stadium, Kennedy picked up on Eisenhower’s vision of a peaceful space, a frontier, as Kennedy put it, that “can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war.”
Kennedy’s rhetoric worked with Congress, which had a Democratic majority and members eager to see space facilities and laboratories built in their districts. But the argument never entirely won over the American people. A majority of Americans thought we were spending too much money on space. At the height of the attempt to send men to the Moon, when NASA sent three humans 25,000 miles an hour into space, circled the Moon, and brought them back safely, most citizens opposed the program. Even when, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the surface of the Moon, almost half of Americans thought the money should have been spent elsewhere. The moral is clear: if not for the Cold War, Apollo would never have gotten off the ground. And if not for Lyndon Johnson, a master of the legislative process, the Sixties may have been spent taking salt out of the developing world’s water.
Today is MLK Day, not just a Monday off, but a reminder to that the Martians in our Classrooms may be the next Martin Luther King Junior. She or he may be the one to change the course of history with the power of their voice. How does this change the way that you view each student? How do you want each Martian in your classroom to remember you years from now?
How can you ensure that presentation literacy isn’t replaced with simply handing out public speaking assignments?
Share Chris Hadfield's TED Talk with your students and use this a springboard to discuss fear versus danger and to discuss the worst case scenarios of public speaking. This will help students to approach the stage with the confidence and help them to get back in front of an audience again, even if they did fumble over a few words the last time they shared their ideas in public.
What does the word "rhetoric" mean? What impact did John F. Kennedy's rhetoric have on the space mission?
The mission to the moon was opposed by many. It takes guts to stand up against popular opinion and act on a bigger idea. What are some examples of when this has happened in history or your own experiences?