“Participation is required.”
I bet we’ve all heard that before. There are a handful of classes offered at UW-Eau Claire which require students to participate in discussion for grade points. I once received a D for my participation points in one class because I never asked any questions or added to the debates during discussion.
But I didn’t have any questions. I didn’t want to lead discussion. So what? I paid attention, read the textbook and absorbed as much information as I could to get good grades on the exams. I didn’t deserve that D.
Measuring our understanding of course material by how often we talk in class is both inaccurate and unfair. The practice is generalizing learning and speaking, and lumping them together in a neat little category that everyone should be able to fit into, even though that’s not the case. I truly believe some students just don’t learn that way.
In an article titled “Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Silence: An Analysis of Talking as a Cultural Practice,” authors Heejung Kim and Hazel Rose Markus discuss a study examining the correlation between talking and intellect. What they discovered is that talking is compatible with analytical reasoning. Yet thought processes involved with insight or holistic thinking are found to be difficult to verbalize, and talking while thinking can hinder the thought processes.
Certain parts of thinking and understanding are better achieved through an internal thought process. Wouldn’t professors rather have us internally process information if it meant we could understand it better? I think this idea of always needing to verbalize our thoughts speaks volumes about America as a culture.
Kim and Markus touch on culture in their article as well. In the United States and Europe, discussion in the classroom is thought to help develop social skills, logical thinking, confidence and citizenship. But in East Asian cultural contexts, this kind of participation is not as encouraged or even important. Kim and Markus said the classroom is a place for students to listen and not interrupt the flow of teaching. These kinds of attitudes toward speaking in class directly relate to the individual cultures’ meanings of speech.
Which brings up a completely different problem for foreign exchange students attending American or European universities. They may have been conditioned to believe speaking up in class is frowned upon. Classes that require verbal participation are unintentionally discriminating against people of different cultures.
Professors need to be more open -minded about the fact that each individual student may learn better in a different way. Requiring students to spout out whatever nonsense they can just to get the points is devaluing the practice all together.
Speaking during class may help hone certain skills, like social skills or confidence, but as students, we can learn those skills other places, like in on-campus organizations, within our own social circles or even at part-time jobs and internships. Let the students who want to speak up speak up, but don’t punish the ones who choose to sit quietly and learn the way they know is best for them.
We put so much value on our unique freedom of speech. Why not on our freedom of silence?