Fighting religion in public schools

Jessica Ahlquist‘s talk from the Secular Student Alliance annual conference is online. I can confidently say it was my favorite talk of the whole conference – and that’s competing with excellent talks by Greta Christina, PZ Myers, Jamila Bey, and David Silverman.

In other words, I order you to watch the whole thing right now. You won’t be disappointed.

I wish I had been as strong as Jessica when I was a sophomore in high school.


  1. Otranreg says

    While the story behind the speech is pretty interesting (I’d heard about it before, but didn’t follow it), I must say that she’s far from being a good public speaker: she’s hard to follow, she rambles (I don’t know how much of the speech had been written, but I grew tired of all the asides and not getting to the point), and her intonation is unconvincing and not attention-grabbing, which only compounds the above two.All I am saying is that there is plenty of room to improve, and I have no doubt that she will manage to cover it. Future tense, still.

  2. says

    Have you *heard* high-schoolers speak in public?  This is pretty damn impressive.  I look forward to the link for the video in which *you* speak in front of hundreds of people :)

  3. says

    Seriously, when’s the last time you heard a 15 year old give a talk? She’s easily in the top 99 percentile for her age. Obviously there’s room to improve, but hell, she’s a better speaker than a lot of adult atheists I’ve seen who have had way more time to hone their skills…

  4. says

    It looks like the video was removed. I managed to watch it once and refreshed the page to see the new comments and it was gone. Weird.

  5. Otranreg says

    So, you do think that she stinks, and all that you say is that we should give her more credit than she deserves, because she is a high-school student, don’t you. Thank you for agreeing with me on the first part, and please, (re-)read the last paragraph of my first comment here: it may prove enlightening.Now, what would my giving a link to my speech achieve exactly? If I give one with a horrendous and unwatchable performance of mine, will it make hers anyhow better and redeemed of its faults? If I give one where I speak well, will it mean that I have more right to bash the poor student? And if I don’t provide you with any link at all, will it mean that I am stripped of my right to have an opinion, or that my opinion is worthless, or doesn’t cross some arbitrary threshold of worthiness and shouldn’t thus be expressed? Throwing an excuse and an ad hominem at my pretty weak argument isn’t a way to crush it.

  6. says

    No, it means you don’t know what you’re talking about. Hemant is a high school speech coach. He kind of knows what good public speaking is for a high schooler.

  7. Otranreg says

    You see, I don’t doubt that she is clever, or that she is a better speaker that some (the fact that I’ve listened to the whole speech without fighting the urge to turn it off too much is a good indicator), but it has nothing to do with the point I’ve made: the speech she gave and her manner of speaking in front of an audience have faults which make a listener put more effort  than necessary into grasping the story she tells and the issues she tries to express. Whatever she tries to do is undermined by the way it is presented regardless of whether she is 15 or 51.Well, I concede that since she is 15 it means that she is more likely (and has more time) to get better at it than her palindromic counterpart.

  8. Otranreg says

    I do, because I listened to the whole speech, and I heard what I heard. As to the rest, so what? It is not an issue of teaching public speaking. It is not a sort of a competition among 15-year-olds, where everyone around them is nice and supportive. It is someone speaking on a serious topic in front of serious adult people (okay, judging from the video, she was preaching to the choir, but it is possible that a wider and less agreeable audience will see the speech on YouTube), and if it all results in the topic suffering and the audience not being convinced because of bad speaking, is it wrong to say that bad speaking is bad, and that it begs for improvement? Or her being 15 warps reality so much that we cannot but turn a blind eye to the faults that she has?

  9. says

    I totally disagree that she is a bad speaker. I don’t think any of the points you made were actually true in any way.

  10. Otranreg says

    Well, if  a flabby text that is interspersed with redundant facts and side notes, an untrained voice that fails to engage the listener, grab his attention, an intonation that borders on mumbling to yourself  don’t constitute bad speaking, I wonder what does.

  11. Otranreg says

    Okay, since this thread is turning to the veiled ‘did so’-bickering side, and, seeing the reasons why you would remain adamant (I did not intent to convince anyone in the first place) no matter what I say, I retreat.

  12. stephen s says

    Jen, thanks for posting this talk by the young lady.  She spoke clearly from the heart, she understands that individual rights or freedom from religion is the important message and  she bravely carries that message very well in her own wonderful style.   I was completely absorbed by this talk, even listened to the Q&A.  This is what diversity sounds like, wonderful isn’t it?

  13. stephen s says

    Yes, I also wish I had been as brave as this young lady as sophomore, junior, senior, etc.

  14. Oiram71317 says

    I listened to this after reading about the rape horrors and now my hope for humanity has been restored. Her talk was very entertaining I fail to see what Otranreg was talking about in the comments; maybe O. was hoping for a speech? But let me tell you that I was bored by O’s ranting to the point that I did not read his anwers :)

  15. Tim DeLaney says

    OK, she didn’t have the polish of a PZ Myers or a William Lane Craig. Like you, I watched her speech with a critical eye, and I thought she did extraordinarily well. She told her story lucidly and got her points across effectively. She’s a student, which implies that she’s learning. She might not even have the ambition to be a professional public speaker. Maybe you’re being unfair to implicitly compare her to accomplished professionals?

  16. caffeine_stream says

    Otranreg must be smoking crack or something. Throughout my university degree we had to give presentations regularly and I would say she is better than about 80% of the students. I would even say that for her age she has a gift for public speaking.

  17. Otranreg says

    Pfft, what, you think I’m a posh twat? No crack, just good old glue and PE-bag combo. And since you don’t read comments, I’ll tell it once again: the fact that she is better than some doesn’t mean she’s good. Having a gift doesn’t have anything to do with it either, not on this stage (well, unless it’s a gift to blither).

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