At The Atlantic on September 12, 2018 there was an article by Taylor Lorenz titled Teens are protesting in-class presentations. It was subtitled Some students say having to speak in front of the class is an unreasonable burden for those with anxiety and are demanding alternative options. Presumably he meant those with the severe problem of a diagnosable social anxiety disorder (which used to be called social phobia). Public speaking phobia is a subset of social phobia. In his 13th paragraph he also claimed:
“Anxiety is increasing at a faster rate than depression as the leading mental-health issue affecting teenagers, a recent study in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics found.”
That magazine article was titled Epidemiology and impact of health care provider-diagnosed anxiety and depression among US children. It covered a far wider age range than just teenagers (ages 6 to 17), and reported on all anxiety rather than just social anxiety.
But there are good statistics on social anxiety in U. S. teens, which came from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication - Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A). As shown above in a bar chart, about 10% of teens have social anxiety disorder, which is an upper bound for the percentage with public speaking phobia. So, about 90% of teens don’t have a major problem with speaking up in class.
A magazine article about fears in the NCS-A reported that 24.9%, or one-quarter of teens feared speaking in class (and 35.8% feared performing for an audience). The other three-quarters of them had no fear. I blogged about this on June 11, 2012 in a post titled What social situations scare American adolescents, and what are their top 20 fears.
After that Atlantic article there were some dissenting replies. At Quartz on September 13, 2018 an article by Annabelle Timsit said Students are resisting in-class presentations. Here’s why teachers shouldn’t cave. On September 15, 2018 the Las Vegas Review-Journal had an editorial titled In defense of public speaking which remarked:“It’s understandable that children want to avoid difficult things, like public speaking. The job of adults isn’t to indulge these juvenile fantasies but to help them develop the knowledge and skills needed to overcome the challenges they’ll face in life. That includes public speaking.
A school that doesn’t do that isn’t doing its job.”
After all, schools aren’t requiring public speaking just to be mean. It is part of the English Language Arts (ELA) in the Common Core standards. One web site about them notes that for grades 11 and 12 students should be able to:
“Present information, findings, and supporting evidence, conveying a clear and distinct perspective, such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning, alternative or opposing perspectives are addressed, and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and a range of formal and informal tasks.”
You can find a more detailed discussion of the standards in a 2011 document from the State of Washington titled The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics: Analysis and Recommendations. (See page 6).
Yesterday at Forbes there was an article by Carmine Gallo titled Don’t abolish in-class presentations, teach students to enjoy public speaking.