Gerald Ford followed an unlikely path to the presidency. He was born in 1913 to a family that was soon torn apart by divorce (quite uncommon at the time). He could barely pay to put himself through college, but he was good enough at football that he got offers to play in the NFL. He fought in WWII. While he did attend the University of Michigan and then Yale law school, when he ran for and was elected to Congress, he was in the middle of the pack. Through a series of quirks, he ended up the first and only unelected president in American history.
Looking back on this surreal rise, one of his main regrets came from the course of study he took in college. He would write in his memoirs that if he could go back, the two main things he would have studied would have been learning to write well and how to speak confidently and articulately before an audience. These were the two main skills he used in every facet of his life and they were the two things he—and most students—get the least instruction in.
It’s interesting to think that with all that has changed since Ford went to college (class of ‘35), these two skills remain paramount. As he said in his memoir, published in 1979, “nothing in life is more important than the ability to communicate effectively.” And yet, we dance around these subjects. Indeed, we teach square dancing in elementary school PE but speech and debate are optional, extracurricular activities. How nuts is that? Kids are evaluated on standardized tests… as if effective communication can possibly be captured on a scantron. In fact, the questions and passages on standardized tests are often the epitome of poor writing!
If schools aren’t going to do it, parents will have to. It’s on you to teach your kids these important skills—to make sure they’re able to articulate themselves on the page and in person. You’ve got to give them the opportunities to get up and address an audience—and encourage the confidence required to be comfortable doing so. Whatever happens in the future, communication will be key (or king). It’s your job to make sure they’re ready.