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The first two-minute speeches began this week, but with two fewer students present. Those departing didn't feel that an oral presentations course applied to their eventual professions. That's a difficult claim to counter, because there are two answers that are appropriate yet still insufficient for many students.
Most serious students in the sciences will have to present senior projects. As professionals, they might have to present research to the public, peers, or even corporate boards. In these situations, speech is a professional skill that can contribute to success. This makes the oral rhetoric course a vocational training element. I'm not against a utilitarian approach to speech if that helps the student understand the need for the education.
The second, and what I consider primary, reason for a speech class is to develop critical listening skills that serve any active citizen well. Too many students (and parents) think education is solely a vocational skills pursuit. I'd rather enforce a liberal conceptualization of education: learn to think and participate, then any other job skills can be mastered. Apathy is too easy, though, and questioning your own biases is too difficult for many citizens.
As for the speeches, the students are off to a good start. They don't quite grasp my apparent wanderings, but they will. It just takes some time for the pieces to fall into place.