High School Speech Contest Offers Hope Amid Campus Chaos


Younger generations are often heralded as the future, especially when education is the topic and we ponder the nation’s landscape in the next 40 to 50 years.

Recently, campus protests have painted a grim picture, showcasing a troubling mix of intellectual void and moral shortcomings. A alarming number of young adults at our top-tier institutions seem indifferent, if not oblivious, to the Constitution and its ethical foundations.

However, I find reasons for optimism—not on these campuses, but among other young individuals nationwide.

This past weekend, I had the privilege of judging a speech competition. High school students from around the country gathered to discuss our nation’s governing document and what citizenship under it entails.

The contrast with the chaotic campus scenes highlighted in recent news couldn’t be starker. Although these high school students differed in their views on constitutional principles and interpretations, they shared a deep respect, love, and dedication to the document. Their patriotism transcended partisan boundaries, embodying a truly American spirit.

Listening to these speeches and interacting with attendees made me realize the urgent need to revive rhetoric in our political sphere. By rhetoric, I refer to the sophisticated art of public discourse on justice issues.

Rhetoric encompasses more than just freedom of speech. While the First Amendment safeguards our inherent right to free speech, granted by our creator, we must focus on the quality of that speech.

The value of effective oratory is linked to the importance of free speech itself. We treasure free speech as a peaceful means for making decisions on legal and social matters, offering a more humane alternative to violent coercion.

Yet, how will we communicate to reach decisions on our priorities, laws, and actions? Will our discourse be filled with profanity and insults? Will we resort to caricaturing opponents and excusing our own group? Will we exploit fears and prejudices for support and votes?

Unfortunately, much of our current discourse falls into these patterns. As Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart a man speaks.” Our rhetoric often reveals a deeper sickness of the soul, with words that manifest inner hatreds and turmoil.

But there is a better way. Our discourse should be guided by reason rather than passion, and it should adhere to truth, avoiding the sophistry that misleads the gullible.

This doesn’t mean our rhetoric must be dry and dull. We can and should appeal to both hearts and minds. True patriotism is a form of love, and the pursuit of justice requires not only knowledge but also a desire to see it realized. This approach affirms our full humanity, recognizing that effective self-governance underpins republican government.

After observing the competition, my hope for the future of our political dialogue is renewed. In an era of fleeting attention, I witnessed sustained engagement. Amidst prevalent emotional manipulation, I saw logical reasoning. In a time of cynical attacks, I heard openings for genuine and charitable advocacy.

We need more students to have these experiences. We must reinstate training in effective political communication in schools, and re-engage with the works of great orators like Henry Clay, Abraham Lincoln, and Frederick Douglass.

Our discourse, nation, and souls will thrive as a result.

Adam Carrington
Adam Carrington
Contributor. Adam M. Carrington is an associate professor of politics at Hillsdale College, where he holds the William and Patricia LaMothe Chair in the U.S. Constitution. His book on the jurisprudence of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Field was published by Lexington Books in 2017.

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