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Web Event 1-Silence and performance

ccassidy's picture

No one has ever really understood why I have a tendency to be so quiet in class.  I still don’t think that I know the logic behind it.  Nonetheless, I’ve sat through countless parent/teacher conferences where my high school teachers said, “Your daughter is just so bright but she never speaks up in class” and “she’s such a shy students.”  I watched as my parent’s eyes widened in complete confusion.  There was no way these teachers could have been talking about their daughter; their 5”4’ ball of energy, who never seems to stop talking.  This is the part of me that has never made sense.  Why is it that the second I step into a classroom, my thoughts freeze and my voice immediately vanishes, leaving me empty in my chair as I listen to everyone else’s lively discussion.  But take that chair out of the classroom and put it on a theater stage.  Give me a script or lyrics to sing.  Standing on a stage, prepared to act, sing or dance, is more freeing for me than any liberal arts college classroom has been so far.  These dichotomous aspects of my personality are at war with each other, searching for a compromise between the girl whose heart bleeds on stage and fearfully shrinks in the classroom.  I want to learn represent myself knowing that there is a shy student and an exuberant performer inside of me and hopefully find a compromise between classroom expectations and my own. 

            Many feminist authors have studied this controversial topic of silence in the classroom and the components of education that affect a student’s behavior.  For these authors, there seemed to be a few keys reasons as to why a student could, or perhaps should, contribute in a class discussion.  A sense of formality was one element that reappeared in essays about structuring the conversational flow of a classroom.  In her essay “Talking in Class,” Jane Tompkins, a self-proclaimed expert talker, argues that speaking up in class “involved a kind of formal exhibition of the self different from what takes place in ordinary conversation” (63).  Tompkins’s assertion would suggest that there is a layer of complex formality that appears when students are placed in a presumably graded situation.  A sense of obligation overcomes the teachers and student alike to fill a stagnant silence.  Tompkin’s makes a valid point when she discusses the formal conversational structure of a classroom; however, I think it seems more likely that a student will speak their mind because their expressive personality traits and are naturally capable of asserting their opinions into a public forum.


It’s the first day of my freshman year of college.  If there was ever a time to remove that ‘quite girl’ label that was so annoyingly accurate in high school, this would be the time.  I’m starting over.  I can be anyone I want to be.  I could be the most talkative person in the class.  Really impress them with my extensive high school knowledge.  Don’t be such a wimp.  Who cares what other people this about what you have to say.  Just speak your piece.  Don’t second-guess yourself.  Just, for the love of God, say something.  Anything.  The last thing you want is be saddled with the ‘quiet girl’ label here.


            What I have found in my somewhat limited educational experience is that there are is a spectrum (I am trying to get out of the binary mindset where there are only the loud and the quiet students) of “talkers” in a classroom setting.  That being said, I have always found myself to be at the end of the spectrum with the words ‘quiet’ and ‘shy’ stamped on my forehead.  At this point, I think someone’s ability to be a ‘talker’ stems from his or her inclination to voice an opinion in all social settings.  For some people, talking in class is a natural, if not necessary, means of expressing a thought, opinion or some insight into their personality.  In the aforementioned essay, Tompkins discusses how staying silent in classes and meetings makes her feel “smaller and smaller,” (63) as if those unsaid words are consuming her whole being and leaving the rest of her an empty shell.  This expression seeks the validation of other, in turn validating one’s representation of the self.  While this is this act of self-representation is completely legitimate, if the ‘”talker” feels comfortable with the self that is being portrayed to the class, it is not a state that is easily, if at all, achieved for those who are not born as “talkers.”

            A person being born a “talker” is an assumption that I don’t agree with.  It seems that it would be more logical to claim that it is a learned trait that someone observes and then puts into practice.  But this doesn’t seem to be the case either.  At least not for me.  Would this imply that if a talkative mother and father had a child, then their child would observe their behavior and mimic it in the classroom?  I was raised by very loquacious parents and I still have not discovered a way to tap into their conversational energy in a classroom setting.  In the book Beyond Silenced Voices: Class, Race, and Gender in United States Schools, it is argued that talking “always implicates the self and other” (183).  This may be what concerns me the most; speaking in class makes a distinction between the person speaking and every one else.  It opens the talker up to the scrutiny and judgment of other intelligent minds.  For some one who does not consider themselves to be an extroverted, assertive speaker, revealing these thoughts, opinions and insight into their personality is anxiety-producing for no other reason than because it sets them apart from other classmates.  This vulnerability is unnerving with strangers, classmates and teachers alike.  In the essay "The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People's Children,” Lisa Deplit claims that speaking in class should make us “vulnerable enough to allow the world to turn upside down in order to allow the realities of other to edge themselves into our consciousness” (297).  The question then becomes how can someone like this, someone like me, find a way to be comfortable with being vulnerable in his or her classroom performance.


           It’s just another class discussion.  Please don’t sit here for another hour and not say anything.  Maybe I could say something about the essay I read last night and connect it to this discussion.  But what if that doesn’t make any sense to anyone.  What if my comment makes the whole discussion fall flat.  There is nothing I hate more than an awkward silence.  I really should get a contribution in.  Why do I have nothing to say? Everyone has a opinion about something.  I should to.  I just need to open my mouth and say something that sounds vaguely educated.  Now is my chance.  Damn, someone started talking just as I was about to.


             The concept of a classroom performance is not an unusual turn of phrase but it is often associated with the process of being graded on classroom participation.  But discussing this paper topic with Anne has made me question whether or not the term ‘performance’ could be interpreted more literally to help me feel comfortable in a classroom setting.  Since I was 10 years old, I have been performing in dance productions, music groups and, more recently, an Acappella group and a musical.  Many people who have interacted with me a classroom would never guess that I have spent a large portion of my life on stages, performing for small and large audiences.  While I always experience some stage fright, being on stage is my way of representing myself to the world, of sharing all the lyrics, scripts and dance steps that I have stored in my memory and what they all mean to me.  My hope for the rest of this semester is that I will sit in a classroom and imagine myself on a stage.  My peers will be my audience.  My readings and notes will be my guiding lyrics.  Maybe this tactic, this literal classroom performance, will help me express my true thoughts, opinions and insight into my true self in a small liberal arts college classroom.         


            Pretend it’s a performance.  Have a loose script prepared.  Imagine an empty stage.  A spotlight.  An audience (usually you can’t see the faces of people in the audience anyway).  Maybe the more often you create a character that is a confident and conversational student, the easier it will be for you to see it in yourself.  They want to hear what you have to say.  They will support your assertion.  Or politely disagree with it.  And that’s fine.  Let your inner performer find her way into the classroom.  She just might know that she’s doing. 



I included my anti-self portrait.  I don’t want my own self-pressuring to keep me from speaking in class.  I can blend my performing life with my classroom life.  No more hiding behind unspoken words.







Works Cited

-Delpit, Lisa. "The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People's Children." Harvard Educational Review 58, 3 (August 1988): 280-298. < Dialogue by L Delpit.pdf>.

-Heejung S. Kim and Hazel Rose Markus. Chapter 11--"Speech and Silence; an Analysis of the Cultural Practice of Talking.” In Michelle Fine and Lois Weis,Eds. Beyond Silenced Voices: Class, Race, and Gender in United States Schools. Rev. New Paltz: State University of New York Press, 2005. 181-196.  /exchange/system/files/private/Weis%2CFine%2C11%252614.pdf.

-Tompkins, Jane. "Talking in Class." A Life in School: What the Teacher Learned Reading, Massachusetts, Addison-Wesley, 1996. 62-65.  /exchange/system/files/private/Tompkins.pdf.




Anne Dalke's picture

Performing in the Classroom

You explore the same dynamic as Amoylan: shy student /exuberant performer, all in one. And the way out of that conundrum—wanting to bring some of the exuberance of your stage performances into the classroom setting—seems to involve both recognizing the “formal conversational structure of a classroom,” and your own ability to perform what you think you are not: a character who is a “confident and conversational student.” If you could perform that role convincingly, for long enough, perhaps you could begin to inhabit it, reduce the distance between actress and role? If “being on stage is your way of representing yourself to the world,” then think of the classroom as a stage, and represent yourself thereon. Sounds like a plan
 (I noticed you spoke up last week….so I think maybe this could work!)

In her comment, Amoylan wrote about your both “being completely comfortable when we have an anonymous audience. We both get nervous when we know the audience and it is a more intimate situation.” Is that right? Do you feel more vulnerable in the classroom because you are worried about being judged by those you know? Whereas on stage, you know you are being judged, but you don’t know the audience? Or does the difference have to do with what you are being judged for?

I think another difference is that, when you are on stage, the conversation is uni-directional: you are expressing, and we are watching. In the classroom, a successful conversation is multi-directional: you are expressing, in order to evoke another’s response: “expression seeks the validation of other, in turn validating one’s representation of the self”; we “allow the realities of other to edge themselves into our consciousness.” So the sense of success or failure is more immediately obvious? Is that what troubles most….?

Amoylan's picture

Our papers are related in the

Our papers are related in the sense of performance and being able to be completely comfortable when we have an anonymous audience. We both get nervous when we know the audience and it is a more intimate situation. We both wrote about being nervous that our comments on class discussions would be overlooked, or not make sense to people, or offend some people; so rather than speak up we absors what is being discussed around us. 

EP's picture

Both your paper and mine

Both your paper and mine share the idea of performance (but they differ in a way). The idea of performance in my paper was an idea of shifting how one represents themselves to make the situation easier. However, I'm definitely not a performer, so I dislike the idea simply because I can't keep up with it a lot of the time. Hearing about the idea of performance from a performer shed a different light on it, like when you said "While I always experience some stage fright, being on stage is my way of representing myself to the world, of sharing all the lyrics, scripts and dance steps that I have stored in my memory and what they all mean to me." This is a more personal idea of performance than what I had. It shows that the idea of performance can vary depending on who is speaking about it.