Evie Fordham, DCNF
Middle and high school students are citing anxiety as their reason for pushing back against assigned in-class presentations as research shows that nearly one third of teenagers have an anxiety disorder.
The National Institute of Mental Health reports that an estimated 31.9 percent of adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18 exhibit some form of anxiety. It’s an increase that experts say has been driven by the rise of social media, more pressure on students to go to college and other factors.
Students and teachers are split about whether offering alternatives to oral presentations will help anxious students or hurt them by letting them get around developing public speaking skills. The issue was brought to the foreground of discussion after a Sept. 8 tweet from a high school student that said “stop forcing students to present in front of the class and give them a choice not to” was retweeted more than 130,000 times.
“Nobody should be forced to do something that makes them uncomfortable,” a 14-year-old eighth grader identified only as Ula told The Atlantic. “Even though speaking in front of class is supposed to build your confidence and it’s part of your schoolwork, I think if a student is really unsettled and anxious because of it you should probably make it something less stressful. School isn’t something a student should fear.”
Many teachers maintain that an education lacking in public speaking practice will not prepare students to succeed as adults.
“My thoughts are that we are in the business of preparing students for college, career, and civic life. Public speaking is a piece of that preparation,” Connecticut high school history teacher Ryan Jones told The Atlantic. “Now, some kids are deathly afraid to do it, but pushing outside of comfort zones is also a big part of what we do.”
But some students warn that students could claim to have anxiety to get out of presentations.
“I think it’s important these accommodations are accessible, but that they’re also given to those who are need it instead of those who just say they don’t want to present,” a 16-year-old New York student identified only as Addie told The Atlantic. “There’s a big difference between nervousness and anxiety.”
Other students think the grading rubric should be changed, not the public speaking requirements themselves.
“It feels like presentations are often more graded on delivery when some people can’t help not being able to deliver it well, even if the content is the best presentation ever,” 15-year-old Massachusetts student Bennett told The Atlantic. “Teachers grade on public speaking which people who have anxiety can’t be great at.”
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