Sunday, October 21, 2007

Confessions of a speech mom

"Extemporaneous speaking is a limited preparation event where the speaker is given a limited amount of time to prepare a speech on a current event topic. (Thirty minutes to prepare a speech of seven minutes maximum length. There is no minimum length.)"

Little did I know what would happen to me when I agreed to be a timer for a round of extemporaneous speeches at last year's tournament in Los Angeles. I was so inspired by the students' speeches that I decided then and there to get involved with our extemp. students in the coming year. Well, it's one thing to be inspired by young women and men who have spent h-o-u-r-s studying current events, some of them over the last four, five or six y-e-a-r-s. It's another to try and wax eloquently, or even wax coherently, about all the issues in all the countries in the whole wide world. I have never been a learn-to-swim in the deep-end kind of gal, but I suddenly found myself paddling for my life in the choppy waters of current events. What I did not know two months ago could fill many, many, many volumes of single-spaced, small font books. Many.

Exit blogging. Enter The Economist. The headlines of The New York Times and The Washington Post. World Magazine. An occasional glimpse at The Wall Street Journal. I've spent many hours on Google news, looking at the top stories, comparing them to the week before, trying to sort out what relates to what, and who is in charge of what country/uprising/bank, etc. Enter Sudan, Myanmar, Rice's trip to the Mideast, the 2008 election, the national policies on education and forest management, and the volatility of the stock market. I even found an old economics textbook on the free table at the library. A couple of months ago I never would have even noticed it sitting there, but I practically heard it sing my name. Its pages are dog-eared now.

Many times I have felt like someone trying to learn a new language by full immersion. I have felt the brain equivalent of the blank stare and had to go back to page one and try to understand...again. Things I could have learned twenty or thirty years ago are starting to make sense now, and my brain only goes slightly fuzzy when I read the business section of the local paper. This is all good.

Many things I thought I knew, but I could not define. What exactly is a recession, and how is it different from a depression? Well, one person helped bring levity to my search by providing this definition: "A recession is when you lose your job; a depression is when I lose mine." Okay, so that won't help me with the extemp. students, but laughter does keep me going.

So, I became the tournament director for our speech club mock tournament, and one of my jobs was to write the questions for extemp. Three for each student: one domestic question, one international question, one economic question. Can I even begin to admit how much time this took?

I treated it as an opportunity for humililty (humiliation.) I had to adopt all the attitudes I have urged my children to embrace: "ask questions; admit when you don't know something; it's not something else you don't know -- it's something else you get to learn." Boy am I much more compassionate for their learning challenges, and I am all the more committed to exhorting them to jump into the deep-end when they are learning. Come on in, the water's fine!

New knowledge is like a strong cup of coffee or a brisk walk on an autumn morning -- it's the best. It's embarrassing to admit excitement over learning information that a lot people know when they graduate from high school, but once I got over the blushing and stammering it's been downright exhilarating.

Handy hints for current event students young and old:

Create a glossary of terms and definitions. Don't be afraid to search out anything you can't articulately define in a sentence or two.

Read Google news daily. They post news articles from around the world so you can read the story from the perspectives of different countries. It's good to hear the news from a variety of views. Yes, even if you know you're right.

Read daily. Read a combination of background information and current events, when possible.

Use a map. Find a world map that you can mark up. I am not willing to admit on this blog the things I learned by reading the map, but trust me -- it's been real helpful.

I found creating questions for the students to be a great way to learn about current events. I had to know enough about the history of the issue, and its potential impact on the future, to formulate my questions, and that made me dig deeper in my research. I was ridiculously thrilled to hear students praise my questions. A job well done is so satisfying.

This is one of many of the things I love about home educating my children. We're all learning through daily reading and attempts at conversing, jumping in the deep-end when necessary. I am relishing the conquering of confusion.

Ancora Imparo (I am still learning) ~ Michelangelo

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