One student’s experience of Silence in the Classroom
One Student’s Experience ofSilence in the ClassroomMerilee Hamelock & Norm Friesen
I sit in class, listening to the voices of the otherstudents, themselves mostly teachers,surrounding me. The discussion expands as theinstructor, standing at the front of the classroom,settles his gaze on raised hands, grantingindividual students permission to add their voiceto the discussion.I quietly ask, “What about respect?” Anotherstudent blurts, “Well, obviously as teachers we allrespect our students; otherwise we wouldn’t beteachers. That goes without saying, right!?”
My gaze quickly slides over the faces of theother students. The statement is met withnods and smiles. I know from brutalexperience that this is not true! I hold mybreath and wait for someone todisagree. Anyone! My voice screams insidemy head, “Do you all believe that?” I know notall teachers respect their students!
With my voice screaming inside my head, myeyes dart to the instructor standing at the front ofthe class. Our gazes collide. He continues to scanthe faces of the other students and I drop myeyes to stare at the desktop. My lungs ache as Ihope for a sign of disagreement from one of myclassmates. It does not happen and thediscussion continues. My breath whooshes frommy lungs. A hot, prickling wave rolls across thesurface of my skin. My stomach rolls and a pieceof recently consumed muffin pushes against thebase of my throat.
The desktop vanishes from my sight and thevoices fade as memories crowd my mind. Mysenses fill with the sights, sounds, and smells ofa long ago class room: Tiny blue and green desksevenly spaced. The scents of glue and pink pearleraser hang in the air. A tall, dark haired man,cheeks spotted red, spittle gathering on his lowerlip, looms over a small, pale, upturned faceseated below him. His cruel words freeze the boyin place. For another student, quick foot stepsare followed closely by the loud crack of awooden yard stick hitting the desk top. Anunwelcome, even violating hand is reserved forsome who are the most unfortunate.
Fear means literally constriction of heart, andthe outer world draws in oppressive andheavy on the man in fear. When fear departsthe world spreads out and opens a largerspace for action, in which a man can movefreely and easily. (Lived Space, 1961,translated by Dominic Gerlach)
Class ends. I sit motionless and pull my thoughtsinto the present. My mind buzzes as fracturedimages collide, bounce and skitter in alldirections and a mist of thoughts swirl, refusingstructure. Pushing through the cold plate glassdoor, I see my car at the end of the parking lot.Slowly I wade past the other cars dragging amind full of chaos. My forehead briefly rests onthe cool backs of my hands before I reachforward and turn the ignition key. My pale fingersclench and unclench the steering wheel as thecar moves toward home.
Gradually my mind quiets as thoughtscoalesce. My chest muscles relax and mybreathing returns to a rhythmicin...out...in...out. I am now ready to speak!Unfortunately, the class has ended long agoand the opportunity to speak has passed. Iremain alone with my thoughts.
Women have been asked to learn theexperience of men and accept it asrepresentative of all human experience. Whenwomen cannot match this (masculine)knowledge to their own lives or see it asrelevant, the women – not the facts, theories,and curricula – have been termed deficient(e.g., Kohlberg, 1981; Vaillant, 1977). (p.103)
Silence is a multifaceted, often purposefulborder between thoughts and speech orbetween thoughts and words. Silence mightindicate thoughts that cannot be spoken,truths or realities that are or seem to beinexpressible. It might indicate thoughts thatcannot be spoken yet for which the process ofverbalizing has not yet taken hold. It mightindicate that one does not choose or feelready to speak, for whatever reason.” (p. 90,italics in original)