Posted: 15 November, 2022

The importance of oratory skills – Georgie Middlemiss

Arts, Blog, Debating, In the Press, Interview, News, Senior School, Sixth Form

In 2014, Angela Davis said that “you have to act as if it were possible to radically change the world. And you have to do it all the time”. I think there’s nowhere more important for young people, especially young women, to develop this mindset than in school. For all young people across the world, school should be a safe and unbiased environment; enabling students to challenge their assumptions, formulate opinions, and discover the bounds of their own voice.

Just a glance at Putney’s bursting co-curricular timetable, spilling over with more than two hundred clubs a week, or a walk down Putney’s main corridor packed full of creative boards from different societies and subjects, is a testimony to the plethora of ideas and identities that form the building blocks of the school. From Feminist Society; to Model United Nations; to STEM club; to debating and school council; to the more than five new clubs set up by Year 12 just this September, students at Putney seize opportunities for collaboration and the sharing of ideas.

Opportunities aren’t limited to those who are confident at public speaking: Putney has four different journals that are all entirely student-run, from the A Study in Purple magazine, to STEM, Politics, and History Journals. When speakers are hosted at the school as part of the PIE series, students aren’t afraid to ask difficult questions; challenging MP Fleur Anderson on her lack of clarity surrounding her plans to deal with the effects of climate change in Putney, and questioning Baroness Dido Harding about flaws in her Test and Trace programme, to name just two.

For me, it is particularly important to ensure those from marginalised groups are given chances to connect and work together to use their voices to create in-school and real-world change. Penny, one of the organisers of LGBTQ+ society at Putney, told me about the importance of “providing safe spaces, to talk about our shared experiences.” To better inform students and teachers about subconscious biases and how to confront them, former student Lakshya collaborated with over three hundred POC Putney students to voice their experiences. Learning when to hand over the microphone to others, and how to actively listen and respond, is just as critical as knowing when to use your own voice. From the Drag Race to the Diversity Catwalk, students play a central role in cultivating and celebrating a diverse culture at Putney.

Understanding the fundamentals of public speaking is also essential for young people and is taught from Year 7 at Putney. Attending debating society, where we discuss topical issues and practise forming and presenting a convincing argument with clarity and confidence, has hugely helped me develop my oratory skills. This spring, Putney ran a mock courthouse event where Britain was taken to trial for its record on gender equality, human rights, the environment, and healthcare. Experts in these areas, such as the ex-CEO of the EHRC, acted as witnesses who the debaters and I then cross-examined.

Right now, women across the globe are using their voices to incite change, such as those in Iran fighting for freedom of clothing and those in the US campaigning for the right to an abortion. In the age of social media, one voice can spark a revolution. The environment Putney cultivates, where students are genuinely expected to challenge and engage, has shaped who I am today and prepared me for the future. From recent campaigns such as Enough is Enough, to movements like Black Lives Matter, in today’s climate there is no more important tool to arm young people with than the ability to use their own voice to enact change.

Georgie Middlemiss – Year 13

Originally published In Independent School Parent magazine 

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