Anyone who has had the privilege and challenge of leading a classroom knows that there is a very fine balance between too much noise and too much silence. Too much noise, and the hard work of thinking for oneself is very difficult. Too little, and the fun of a dynamic discussion is impossible.
A skilled teacher knows how to push and pull the invisible levers of engagement in their students – effectively turning the volume up and down at specific times within a class period. But even the most skilled teacher will fail, at least some of the time, to manage the noise level perfectly. There is so much to be done in a single class period, in a school day, and so many students to attend to at once. Some of the time, some or many will be silent, and it will go unnoticed amid the noise of those who are not.
I was thinking about types of silence after reading Junot Diaz’s devastating New Yorker essay, “The Silence.” In it, Diaz describes the impact not only of being sexually abused, but of the silence he adopted about it immediately afterwards, and maintained for the rest of his life until now.
I read his essay in silence, tears in the way of my progress.
On April 27th in schools across the country, students observed a Day of Silence to bring attention to LGBTQIA+ children who have felt, and still feel, silenced in their schools, their families, and in society at large. It is always a powerful experience to go to school on the Day of Silence and hear so much quiet. Another person’s silence within a learning environment built for discourse should not be taken as evidence of contentment. It demands attention.