All this thinking about “Student Voice” as a “good thing” makes me wonder about what our response to a call to value “Student Silence” would be.
To ask ....
How should educators learn to understand “Student Silence”?
I guess the answers will depend in part on what we assume from the silence of others and on how we understand or see “Student Silence” in the context of school.
I think I have seen silence ..... in some profoundly moving and breathtakingly beautiful images in a book about to be published by photographer David Maisel, Library of Dust. Link and exerpt from Geoff Manaugh's BLDGBLOG
In some ways, these canisters serve a double betrayal: a man or woman left alone, in a labyrinth of medication, prey to surveillance and other inhospitable indignities, only then to be wed with metal, robbed of form, fused to a lattice of unliving minerals – anonymous. Do we see in Maisel’s images then – as if staring into unlabeled graves, monolithic and metallized, stacked on shelves in a closet – the tragic howl of reduction to nothingness, people who once loved, and were loved, annihilated?
After all, these ash-filled urns were photographed only because they remain unclaimed; they’ve been excluded from family plots and narratives. A viewer of these images might even be seeing the fate of an unknown relative, eclipsed, denied – treated like so much dust, eventually vanishing into the shells that held them.
It is not a library at all – but a room full of souls no one wanted.
It disturbs to imagine/know that no one “listened to their silence" until Maisel,
... and if he had arrived earlier or later we would never have been able to listen to/ value their silence either.
Ivan Illich allows us to appreciate silence in a different way from Maisel’s photographs and Manaugh's text ... his meditation on silence provides some significant new thinking for educators wanting to understand the language of “Student Voice” - (This meditation is designed for a group of missionaries learning Spanish in a way that allowed them to “attune their ears and open their hearts to the anguish of a people who were lonely, frightened and powerless”)
“It is thus not so much the other man’s words as his silences which we have to learn in order to understand him. It is not so much our sounds which give meaning, but it is through the pauses that we will make ourselves understood. The learning of a language is more the learning of its silences than of its sounds.”
"The Eloquence of Silence" in Celebration of Awareness – A call for institutional revolution 1969.
I didn’t understand the significance of silence in understanding another until I read Illich ...
Before Illich I saw student silence as a challenge, silence as a pejorative notion, silence as a communicative pathology, I wanted my students to talk, to discuss, to argue, to debate with each other ... I didn’t want them mute ...
I guess I had imagined “Student Silence” as failure akin to the interpretation in Simon & Garfunkel’s Sound Of Silence ...
Ten thousand people, maybe more.
People talking without speaking,
People hearing without listening,
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence.
Understanding silence as a communicative pathology is probably not far off the mark for many of us the context of school. For example, I saw “Student Silence” in school in simple terms ... as in there are times to be silent and times to talk ...
I think we are encouraged to see “silence” in simplistic terms because our institutional power over students means we indicate these times of student silence and student voice in much the same way we might switch a room light on or off.
For example, there are times in school when teachers expect “Student Silence” and there are other times when teachers expect “Student Voice”. In both cases a refusal to oblige on the part of the student is frustrating to the teacher who is orchestrating the soundscape. To be met with “Student Voice” when you have asked for “Student Silence” or to be met with “Student Silence” when you have asked for “Student Voice” can precipitate a teacher rage out entertaining enough to be worthy of posting on YouTube
Which makes me suspect that when we ask for “Student Voice” and are met with “Student Silence” many of us assume that this “Student Silence” is a failure to communicate that means that students are not thinking (not learning).
For if we saw “Student Silence” as communicating that students are thinking deeply about something (aka learning) then instead of insisting through elaborate questioning strategies on Student Voice we would pause and embrace the silence.
I guess to be fair our response also depends on whether we assume that “Student Silence” indicates that students are thinking/learning about something related to what they have just been reading, watching, doing or listening to (intentional learning outcomes)?
Or whether the thinking/learning is about something tangential to what they have been reading, watching, doing or listening to (unintentional learning)?
Or whether we assume that when students are silent they have disconnected from what they have been reading, watching, doing or listening to and have retreated to a happy/ safer place, daydreaming, woolgathering?
And there are many reasons for students to disconnect when they feel marginalised, or coerced into providing a “Student Voice” that makes them vulnerable if they respond in a way that is different from the norm.
But as Illich’s meditation on silence when learning a foreign language suggests that silence is much more than the Sounds of Silence lyrics indicate. He classifies four forms of silence that missionaries need when learning Spanish ... in school we only recognise the first when trying to understand the language of “Student Voice” .... and we do that grudgingly.
[Note to self: suspect there are some analogies to be drawn with Illich’s classification and the rhythm of blog commenting and responding on Artichoke .. all those times when a comment is left in silence while I wait for words that are worthy to sit alongside it. ]
1. The silence of the pure listener.
2. The silence of syntony,”
3. “The silence beyond words,”
The last category is harder to imagine in a school classroom where timetables mean that the time shared in voice and silence may be only 55 minutes ... still I will leave it in because some educators work outside of the classroom world of the tame and form different conversations of voice and silence in the world of the wild ... where maybe this silence is possible.
4. “The silence of the Pietà”
“The Eloquence of Silence” by Ivan Illich in Celebration of Awareness – A call for institutional revolution 1969. P46 to 51