Speak Up

It takes courage to speak up.

Many social movements of the last several years (like #MeToo or #BlackLivesMatter or #StopAsianHate) have required a few brave individuals to speak up in the face of injustice in order to start a tidal wave of support and change. Anti-bullying movements like “be nice” and Pink Shirt Day aim to teach students not to be passive bystanders, but to speak up and intervene in bullying situations they see happening around them. The popular YA novel The Hate U Give and its film adaptation follow the story of Starr, a young black girl who learns to harness the power of her voice, at great personal risk, throughout the story. Society highly values politicians and other leaders who are willing to challenge the status quo and speak their minds.

Speaking up is also a key skill in much of Scripture. Moses tries to use his poor speaking skills as an excuse to get out of leading the Israelites out of Egypt (Exod. 4:10). The prophets are called to speak to Israel on behalf of God, so they do—often at great length. The disciples are given the ability to speak in various languages at Pentecost so that they can share the gospel with a new audience (Acts 2). And even the apostle Paul, one of the greatest speakers of the Bible, needs some encouragement to keep him going. In Acts 18, Paul is in Corinth and has “devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah” (v. 5). This isn’t a popular message with the Corinthians, and they “[become] abusive” (v. 6). But God steps in:

One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God. (vv. 9–11)

In so many situations—whether they are preaching the gospel, standing up to a bully, or decrying mistreatment and injustice in our world—our students need powerful, practiced voices. They need training in posture, vocabulary, and confidence; they need tips on persuasion and how to be sensitive to diverse audiences. So how do we teach them?

This issue focuses on helping students—and teachers—learn to speak up. Contributors give suggestions for using poetry in your classroom, encouraging civil discourse, administering oral exams, and incorporating more BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) voices in your curriculum. Whether you’re encouraging the quiet kid in the back of the room to share an idea or helping hone the already-boisterous voices of a group of theater students, we hope there’s a tip here for you.

And remember: teachers have some of the most powerful voices in the room. So do not be afraid. Keep on speaking. God is with you.

Steve and Abby both coach forensics (competitive public speaking and acting) at Grand Rapids Christian High School, so in their personal blurbs this month, they’ll share some of their favorite things about the activity.

One of my favorite things about forensics is watching how students grow and change over the course of just one year—especially the students who are trying forensics for the first time. These newbies are unsure of themselves, nervous, fidgety, and often so quiet you can hardly hear them from across the room. They slouch, they shift their weight back and forth, and they say “um” once per sentence. But after just a few weeks of practice, they start to catch on. Good speaking skills are surprisingly easy to teach—there are so many ways to make adjustments, the work is physical, and the results are clearly visible. Students can sense the difference in their confidence and delivery, and they can even see their audiences reacting differently as their skills improve. By the end of their first season of competition, every student has gotten better—and that’s a result we don’t often get to flaunt as teachers. Forensics is one of the most fulfilling periods of my semester because I get to teach students that their voices matter.

—Abby Zwart

Coaching forensics for over a decade means that I’ve gotten to teach a wide range of students, from those who started out with enough charisma to take over a room to those who were at first uncomfortable saying more than a few words in front of anyone they didn’t already know (including the coach). The most exciting part of it for me has been helping students develop a culture of continually working to get better. Whether the speaker is vying for a state championship or just learning to be comfortable in front of the room, the process of working, speaking, and critiquing becomes the focus. While it’s still fun to challenge and encourage them, I know I’m successful when my students begin to realize they don’t really need me. After all, I won’t be there for the rest of their lives. Shouldn’t my goal be to make myself obsolete?

—Steven Tuit