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Section Name

The Basic Course Forum

Abstract

Public speaking has been at the heart of our discipline from its conceptual foundations in the ancient world to the founding of the National Council of Academic Teachers of Public Speaking in 1914. According to a longitudinal series of studies surveying the basic course in communication, the vast majority of such courses are either wholly or partially devoted to public speaking skill acquisition (Morreale, Worley, & Hugenberg, 2010). Though the field has fractured into an interdisciplinary mélange over the last century, public speaking has held onto its primacy, at least as the visible face of most departments. In fact, its status may have increased over the past three decades in response to shifts in the mission and public understanding of institutes of higher learning (as part of communication across the curriculum (CXC) initiatives, partnerships with business and medical programs, and other vocational concerns). Unfortunately, this increased visibility and reach has come at the expense of losing focus on the historical impetus for learning such skills. A perfectly rational focus on economic uplift followed the broadening of university education to a more diverse student body, but this was accompanied by an unnecessary cultural shift away from the humanities and the public responsibilities of educated citizens. The skills of citizenship are the most important skills we can teach our students in a time of increasing economic disparity and political disengagement. To this end, I will suggest in this essay that reorienting the basic course toward a public address perspective should be an important part of our conversation over its content and character.