Great speeches stir the heart. Throughout history distinguished orators have mobilized nations toward grand actions — noble, as well as evil — through their words. Think of Cicero foiling conspirators against Rome, Robispeare advocating the Reign of Terror, Abraham Lincoln bringing healing to a divided nation, Winston Churchill rousing the British to war, Fidel Castro inspiring the Cubans to revolution, and Ronald Reagan urging a foreign leader to tear down a wall of oppression. Also think of Jesus moving the masses with His Sermon on the Mount or Peter inspiring the faithful on Pentecost Day.
These great speakers began with an objective in mind and then used their oratory skills to help reach that objective. In teaching our high school students such skills, we give them the tools necessary to inspire others with their words, thus putting them in better reach of their goals. Whether our children grow up to lead nations or not, the art of oral communication is important to their education.
Consider a businessman interacting with his partners, a pastor preaching to his parish, an attorney representing a client in court, or a fundraiser persuading an audience to donate money to his cause. Though we may not realize it, debate is an integral part of our everyday lives. From the homeschooling mother encouraging her children to listen and learn to the politician moving his constituents to his side of the political fence, oratory skills are being used.
Language Arts through Great Speeches
Benjamin Franklin trained himself as a writer by imitating other authors. You can use Franklin's method to successfully teach your student excellence in writing. First, find a good resource that contains transcripts of famous speeches. Laura Berquist recommends The World's Great Speeches: 292 Speeches from Pericles to Nelson Mandela, edited by Lewis Copeland, Lawrence W. Lamm, and Stephen J. McKenna (published by Dover and available from Emmanuel Books) in her high school curriculum.
Next, choose a speech that fits into your history studies and have your student outline it and make notes of the speech's sentiment. Lay the outline aside for a few days and then, without looking at the speech, have the student try to reproduce it. The student should then compare his work to the original, looking for faults and making corrections. (Check out www.writing-edu.com for an in-depth program using Franklin's method.)
Leonardo da Vinci had his apprentices copy the Mona Lisa to build a solid foundation of artistic skill. Similarly, copying great speeches will aid your student in building writing skills. Once he has developed skill through imitation, he can then work on creativity.
Look for these techniques often found in great speeches:
— The use of broad themes. Great speeches are not weighed down by details.
— Keeping on topic. Focus remains on the primary goal.
— A clear opening and conclusion. Starts with an effective grabber and ends with a summary.
— A relaxed manner, as one would use in personal discussion rather than in formal writing.
Delivering a Great Speech
It is not enough to write a good speech; one must also develop skill in delivery. Again imitation is helpful here. Watch televised or live speeches and have your student analyze the techniques that make a successful speech.
Some simple tips for public speaking:
— Know your audience.Visit a Toastmasters Club. From the website: "At Toastmasters, members learn by speaking to groups and working with others in a supportive environment. A typical Toastmasters club is made up of 20 to 30 people who meet once a week for about an hour. Each meeting gives everyone an opportunity to practice."
— Know your subject matter well.
— Relax and visualize yourself speaking.
— Gain experience.
Though Toastmaster's international organization asks that members be eighteen years or older, there are local clubs that will allow homeschooled students to participate.
Consider also looking for, or taking the initiative to start, a homeschool speech club. Find opportunities for your student to present his speeches in front of an audience.
History through Great Speeches
I do not urge my children to believe historians out right, or to trust history textbooks blindly. I am especially cautious of the historian who bases his conclusions on the research of another historian. High school students can dig deep and delve into original sources and draw their own conclusions.
In comparing primary documents, such as speeches, students discover firsthand the reasons for the turns and events of history. They can then compare their understanding of history to their history textbook's understanding. The best lesson may be that there is never a single reason for anything — there are a multitude of reasons.
In studying World War II we can gain several historical perspectives using The World's Great Speeches, as it contains speeches given by Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. All of these leaders present a different outlook of the same world events.
I encourage you to supplement The World's Great Speeches, or other speech resource, by reading biographies, especially autobiographies, of the speechwriters. Seek out actual documents, such as personal and official letters, government documents, and archival records (many can be found by searching the Internet). An illustration in applying this approach would be the study of the Revolutionary War. The World's Great Speeches includes many of the Founding Fathers. The Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution are primary documents that are easily available. The study can then be further enhanced by reading books such as The Adams-Jefferson Letters: The Complete Correspondence Between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams, Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, and The Federalist Papers.
Most importantly, talk about how your students, as children of God, personally have an impact on history. Ask how they can use their oratory skills to better our society, and bring Christ and His Church into the hearts and minds of others.