Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Silence in Our Silence Class

Chandrea's picture

Since I won't be in class this Thursday I am posting what I would (or let's be serious) would NOT have contributed to class. Anne asked me to post about what I would say in class and I don't know why I'm so nervous writing this. I think it's a combination of things that we've been discussing in class: silence, inaccessibility, language, taking risks. I just read the Kalamara's reading and I don't know if I fully understood it. There were parts of it that I would like to discuss because I felt like I could relate to it, but I'm nervous to discuss it here because I don't have the opportunity to hear other people in our class talk about it first so I can decide whether or not I actually got the point of the reading. It seemed fairly accessible to me until it brought up eastern religions and then I got confused. I don't get the feeling that this article was supposed to be as dificult to read compared to the other inaccessible readings we read together in class but I started to lose my understanding of the reading towards the end. Because I finished reading the article in a confused state, I am hesitant to explain how I understood it. What if I read it all wrong?! Perhaps this is a situation in which I realize that the little inaccessible parts of some of the readings we are assigned lead to me not contributing in class. I don't want to complain about it - I just choose to shut up.

But here's what I did understand (and hopefully I got it right): In Western culture, we see silence as a bad thing. The women that don't speak up - they must be oppressed! They have to overcome this "condition of annihilation" (1). I found myself wondering, Does silence always have to be a bad thing? This makes me think about my struggles as a student in this class earlier on this semester (and I'm still struggling with it now, to be honest). Why did I always feel so bad and self-conscious about the fact that I didn't speak up in class? I feel like I struggled even harder with this question (in a very visible fashion) in our Voice class, but in our Silence class I don't even bother to speak! I thought the reason why I was usually so quiet was because I was processing - and that could still be it - but maybe I just have nothing to say or my classmates beat me to it. Do I look like I'm a less of a threat if I don't speak up? Do you take me seriously? Do you think I'm oppressed? Do you think I have issues with self-confidence?

Can my silence ever be seen in a positive manner?

I had a conversation with Irene for a podcast and - Irene, please correct me if I misquote you - she told me that she thinks she's become more confident speaking now because she's older than a lot of her classmates. She didn't seem to realize that her experience as a student may affect the way she speaks up in class. I was kind of happy to hear that - Maybe during my senior year I'll finally be able to talk like a normal person! 

I'm just tired and exhausted and frustrated with myself. I'm tired of feeling like I need to speak up all the time. It was pointed out to me that maybe my silence in class may not be helpful to other people's learning in our class. I felt really bad about that. Does my silence really affect your learning experience? I'm so tired of trying to meet people's expectations and beating myself up for not speaking up. I like the way Kalamara's summed it up: "The West has misinterpreted the meaning of silence, and therefore its casting of silence as a negative condition - specifially the practice and awareness of silence - is misguided" (4). Maybe my silence shouldn't be your problem. I want to feel like I've made progress as a learner in this 360 but I can't help but feel like I'm back at Square One. I can gain experience as a public speaker over as many years as I want, but if I don't want to speak, I won't.



Michaela's picture

Chandrea--this was so

Chandrea--this was so awesome! I'm so glad to (virtually) hear from you about your silence--I appreciate that you explained some of your hesitations regarding speaking in class, and they're ones that I often face, too. Especially getting hung up on the small things in readings that make me unsure of my understanding of the whole piece--you totally captured my thoughts, and I think, more than likely, those of several others of our classmates. While I can't speak for anyone but myself, I'd say probably we're all struggling with this whole silence/speaking dichotomy (does it have to be a dichotomy?), and how it fits into our own classroom behaviors as well as the world outside of our walled 360 community. 

At the same time as I appreciate your post, and recognize that it's what's required by Anne, as a professor and authority figure, I think it's a little ironic that you even have to explain your silences through speaking up! (online). I find a lot of value in looking over at you in class and hearing what you say when you do speak, but also what seems to capture your attention, what you seem to agree or disagree with, etc. (I promise I'm not watching you in a creepy way, these are just observations from when I do look your way :) I often feel frustrated with myself too, but I hope you're not beating yourself up over thinking that we are somehow disappointed or upset about how much or how little you speak--as you say, speaking (or silence) is your prerogative. You don't owe us anything. So while I definitely enjoyed reading this and learning more about you, I think your silence can definitely be seen in a positive manner--so I don't think you need to feel pressure to explain yourself.