But other than that…?
“Yes, yes. But other than that Mrs. Lincoln … how did you enjoy the play?
The absurdity is in the question’s disconnect. To disregard the devastation of assassination in favor of a stage production gives it its dark humor. Surely, no one would ask this. Surely.
Disconnect has been a familiar thread in education for nearly two decades. Unfortunately, it’s not a joking matter and educators have been asking a variation of ‘surely’ for most of those two decades.
In our race to the top, to leave no child behind, we’ve distilled learning into data storage and regurgitation. People far more adept have addressed this issue and so I will defer to their statistics and pie charts. I’d like to offer one possible solution. Actually, it’s another question…
What if we let oratory serve as a guide in how to best educate our young charges?
If disconnect is the issue, oratory allows for a reconnection. Student oratory is built on the premise that students are innately curious, they’re able to explore a topic and then articulate insights effectively. In oratory, students are introduced to skills necessary to succeed as thinkers, writers and speakers. Skills Mr. Lincoln honed in the rural Kentucky lyceums and debating societies of his day. Skills impossible to assess with bubble sheets. Harvard educator Tony Wagner reminds us, “The best judge of a student’s progress isn’t in the facts they learn but in what they can do with those facts.”
In addition, by developing those skills, we offer students ownership. Oratory gives young women and men a voice- a place at the table. Our students have insights we really need to hear. When students are connected, they are fearless in their research and both open to and unphased by opposing viewpoints . They want to grapple with the issues of both the past and the day.
Oration reminds us: education isn’t as much about having the right answers, but, as often as not, just asking the right questions. Classrooms should provide a safe place to wrestle with those questions.
We can’t separate the play Our American Cousin from an event almost a sesquicentennial ago. And we shouldn’t. That event defined a nation. By the same token, as educators, we shouldn’t divorce process from product. What if oratory could offer a way back? That… is question worth exploring.