The power of a screaming silence

LateshaJohnsonBy Latesha Johnson |

Quiet warrior. Silent threat. A couple of names I’ve been called with so much meaning behind them. So, why try to pull me out of my element and further punish me if I refuse to conform?

Throughout my college years I have had points taken off of my final grade because I didn’t talk enough in class. “Participation points,” my professors would call them. A subjective grade, they would say.

Professors often argue that students who participate in class discussions learn better, and it shows who is paying attention and who is interested. To them the student is contributing to the lesson by speaking, which is a part of their teaching technique.

To me, it’s not fair. It plays in the favor of extraverts and people who don’t have a problem sharing some insight. I don’t have a problem sharing either, but I’d rather not most of the time.

Let me listen, observe and soak in all of the knowledge, as I was born to do. Instead of docking my muteness, look into my eyes and focus on my gestures, and you will see where my attention lies within my silence.

I don’t always need to speak to be effective and I don’t need to speak in order to show that I’m engaged. Or do I?

Some experts argue that introverted kids need to learn to speak up at school, and that every student student should be graded on class participation. Class discussions, they say, are teaching students how to succeed in the world we live in.

But how can success be measured by how much a student speaks in class? Fellow colleagues of mine have admitted that when they know they can raise their grades by talking in class, sometimes they will just shout things out even if they don’t know what they are talking about. They say they say anything that sounds good so that the professor knows that they have spoken in class.

Does that mean those students will be more successful than I am in the world? If I have shown my understanding of the material by passing the exams, but never speaking in class, does that mean I will not do better in life than the person who failed every exam, but spoke in class every day? Does that student really know what’s going on in class more than I do because I didn’t voice my interest?

According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a personality inventory based on theory of psychological types, I am an introvert and I am also an introverted learner.

According to the test, in a classroom introverts excel when they can work independently with their own thoughts, through listening, observing, reading, writing and independent lab work. They are more comfortable if they are not required to speak in class, but are allowed to voluntarily contribute.

It goes on to say that introverts learn best through quiet, mental reflection. Their attention will naturally flow inward to their own thoughts, ideas and impressions.

But does a class where you are basically being forced to talk if you want a decent participation grade really allow for that type of learning? No. It wants you to conform to the world. A world that just can’t seem to shut up. A world that jumps into action so quickly that it forgets to think first.

But me, I take the A- knowing that I am an A student. I take it because I know I sat in the front of the classroom every day and actively took notes well enough to get As on my assignments and tests. I know I was engaged, but if you want to penalize me for who I am and how I learn the best, then go ahead. But I’ll never agree.

This has happened to me in a number of classes, but one that I will never forget is speech communication. I had to give four speeches during the semester and despite my personality, I was able to articulate very well and deliver the message effectively to the class and professor each time. I received an A on every speech and As on the final written exam and all other class assignments. But, when final semester grades were released online, I had received an A- in the class.

I emailed the professor asking her why I received an A-, and she said she doesn’t have her grade book in front of her, but she is sure it probably had something to do with class participation because I didn’t speak often in class.

I emailed her back saying, no I didn’t speak in class every day, but I believe I spoke as often as I wanted to and that my work shows that I deserve an A.

She never responded. How ironic. I speak up for myself and she goes mute.

I guess that’s how the world works.

Although I disagree that class discussions prepare you for “the world,” I do, however, think that it is necessary for students to give in-class presentations, participate in group activities and communicate with professors.

This I believe is what contributes to a student’s learning and prepares them best for the future outside of the classroom. This can gauge how well a student can communicate a message and work with others. Not blurting out asserted opinions.

I have had a professor tell another student to be quiet because he was trying to speak over me when I finally decided to say something in one of my classes. I have had professors call me articulate and quiet in the same sentence. I have had success in and outside of the classroom with a number of accolades to accompany my name. I know how to speak when I want to and when I do it is humble, yet powerful.

So what exactly is a class participation grade? Extra points for yapping? I guess I’ll never get any of those, but I know every employer doesn’t like a big mouth. I know there is room in the workplace for people like me. Someone who walks the walk rather than just talks the talks and doesn’t do anything after that.

Instead of taking points away from students who don’t speak in class on a normal basis, professors should “subjectively” reward students for their effort, however they choose to display it. If you are on the borderline of an A and a B, but you spoke in class a lot then you should get points toward that A. If I took notes in class and went to the professor’s office hours, then I also should get points toward that A.

Class participation and discussions will not make or break me or anyone as a person. I don’t think I have learned any less, or lost out on anything by not speaking in class, except those subjective points, but I can successfully live with that. Every student is not the same and everyone doesn’t learn or engage the same. But we can all flourish in many different ways.

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