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Contact a Little More, Slip a Little More

bothsidesnow's picture

            In my high school classrooms, most students attempted to “meet, clash, and grapple with each other,” (Pratt 34) as described in “Arts of Contact Zone” by Mary Louise Pratt, with their intellectual ping-pong, bouncing ideas back and forth. For example, my last English class before graduating was built around connecting original fairy tales to modern ideas about gender roles and social expectations. Some students were self-educated about the complexities of these topics while others were not and their opinions clashed during those discussions. Sometimes, as the discussions became heated, students would slip and unintentionally say things that would be inconsiderate of others’ beliefs. These slips were not as severe as the ones described in Chapter Eight of "Slipping into Something More (Un)Comfortable” by Anne Dalke, but they left an uncomfortable feeling in the air when we hurried out the door after class. The discussions continued outside of class, and students apologized to each other, recognizing that they had not spoken in the most respectful manner during class. Nevertheless, these certain students who took more risks with their ideas and challenged other participants to outdo them. They weren’t afraid of slipping because it gave them another chance hone their communication skills. The contact zones of different ideas during discussions led to debates about the topics at hand. During these moments, slippages occurred when students were exclusive in their statements because they acknowledged their mistakes afterward and worked to listen and respond better in the future. However, leaving the less vocal students out of the conversation was only a potential slip because the loud ones were so self-absorbed they didn’t consider their need for deeper explanation and inclusion. More of the class would have succeeded individually if we had all been involved in discussions. We missed out on the benefit of a full contact zone and the accompanying slips.

            We were not a community in the Upper School because academic knowledge was power in that competitive, isolated world. Power separated groups of people or individuals, creating a divide that could have been a contact zone or a slippage. Instead, we were in our own little worlds according to what type of student we were since the first day of class. If you were eager to show off how well you could think and make connections with the material, then you were destined to lead for the rest of the trimester. If not, then it would be hard to get a word in edgewise and catch up. These past classrooms exemplified the harmonious “imagined communities” (qtd in Pratt 37) described by Benedict Anderson: some students took charge, paddling the discussion into deeper waters while others were either happy to sit back, unnoticed, or were lost in the whirlpools of their own understanding. Sometimes teachers tried to engage everyone in discussion, yet as time marched on, the eager participants’ voices became more prominent while everyone else sank into silence.

            Through the lens of Pratt’s analysis, we did “assume that all participants were engaged in the same game and the game is the same for all players” (38). Judged from the rare moments when they spoke, I thought that the quieter students had strong thoughts and ideas, maybe just realized a little later than the others but they would eventually speak up. I was wrong. Then I imagined that we, the ones who seemed all knowing, would set aside our own competition with one other, in order to help the other members of the class achieve better understanding, and therefore engage in and enjoy the conversations. If the whole class participated, then there would be a wider range of experiences shared, most likely resulting a contact zone. Pratt says, “no one is safe” (39) in these spaces where we wrestle with each other’s ideas, and lack of safety can force us to learn better. Safety, like ignorance, is not bliss in terms of open-mindedness. In order to improve our own thinking, we should slip when in heated debate as long as we also recognize and attend to those slips afterward. Emily Elstad wrote “sometimes only by slipping and falling to the floor do we notice that there is something down there that needs to be cleaned up” (qtd in Dalke), which is the concept we should have realized.

         If only we could have listened to the other students at the occasional times they did speak and prompt them to go further with their ideas. We could have had a contact zone that stimulated all of our minds to consider other perspectives but due to the leaders’ selfishness, including mine, we dominated the discussion. The worries of impending college admissions drove us to isolate ourselves, to only take the necessary time to improve our own grasp of the material, instead of making sure everyone was included. We wanted others to hear our voices and to be noticed by the teacher for strong participation.  Like the potential contact zone, this was also not quite a slip, since we never acknowledged that we only conversed with each other to be academically competitive, instead of helping the less confident members of the class.

          Though now I am in classrooms here at Bryn Mawr where it seems that few are afraid to speak up during class, we must still persist to create a contact zone and be willingly to slip. Without doing this, are we really challenging ourselves at our highest potential?


        Works Cited


Dalke, Anne. "Slipping into Something More (Un)Comfortable: Untangling Identity, Unsettling Community." Steal This Classroom. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Oct. 2015.

Pratt, Mary Louise. "Arts of the Contact Zone." N.p.: Modern Language Association, 1991. 33-40. Print.

bothsidesnow, “Claim Your Identity.” September 11, 2015 (1:34 p.m.).

/oneworld/changing-our-story-2015/claim-your-identity n.d. Web. 2 Oct. 2015