Saturday, August 17, 2013


We are afraid of silence.
We rush to fill the void with music and chatter.

We get nervous if there are long pauses in conversations or if we are alone... waiting,  or if the air seems too still.

We rush and  scurry from one appointment to another meeting, from this event to the next activity.
We live in a hurry up-now-instant culture.  

Silence  isolates us and holds up the wall between us and the next guy.
Silence condones injustice, leaving  the perpetrators free to operate at will.
Silence hurts and offends.

We are afraid of silence.

But silence can be different.
Silence can be healing, healthy, and helpful.

Silence can be a space where we go to find ourselves, to mull over our current  situations,  past relationships, or coming events.

It can be the time when we silence both the voices in the world and the voices in our heads.
It can be the time when we are able to hear the sounds of silence--that quiet symphony drowned out and hidden by our constant noise.

I think about the silence in my car when I turn off the music and the talk on the radio.  In that ensuing quiet, I can plan entire workshops, outline a coming presentation, and generate new blog post ideas.

I can rehearse difficult conversations and rethink hard decisions.

In that quiet place, I can also pray without interruption, sinking into that sacred, hallowed silence......or I can just be in the silence.

Silence can be delicious.

As teachers, we often attribute silence to disinterest or inability in our classrooms. We develop strategies to make those reluctant students talk,  share,  and participate.

 Their silence translates as I don't know or I am resistant.

 Katherine Schultz acknowledges these potential reasons for silence, yet she also asks that we broaden our understanding of silence in our classrooms. We read and discussed a chapter from her book in the 2013 CAWP Summer Institute to help us consider new ways of thinking about silence.

In the forward to Schultz's book Rethinking Classroom Participation: Listening to Silent Voices, Ray McDermott  introduces a wider view of silence :

Schultz keys on five functions of silence in classrooms: resistance, reluctance, assertion, protection, and reflection...(she) names other kinds of silence as well, and the list can be expanded with every new situation, every new occasion for listening more deeply.  Bernard Sauenhauer (1980) identified intimate, liturgic and malign silences and celebrates the powerful "silence of the to be said."...... ( and ) what Zora Neal Hurston....called the " finished silence" (1937/1990) ( Schultz,x)

As we consider these broader definitions of  silence, Schultz also considers the roles and functions of silence as a way to participate in the classroom:

But were the students who were silent simply not participating?  Teachers often define classroom participation as a verbal response that fits into a routine or teacher-established pattern of classroom discourse.  Can students participate without speaking out loud?  Should educators consider the times that students give a silent assent to a question or thoughtfully jots notes for a future essay as participation? Are these useful forms of participating?   It is important to note that one student's silence can enable another student to speak.  Do students have a responsibility to contribute to the silence of the classroom so that others can talk, along with a responsibility to contribute verbally to the discussion?  How might silence be  reframed as a "productive or useful contribution to classroom discourse? (Schultz,3)
How does silence ebb and flow in our classrooms, in our daily lives, and in our world?

We often think of children as noisy creatures, playing and moving constantly.  But we can share the positives of silence with them. Silence by Lemniscates provides the perfect vehicle as it asks children, and children-at -heart, to ponder what we can hear when we are completely silent.   Take a peek at this beautiful book  to see  all that we notice when we silence our normal noise.

In the poem  "Keeping Quiet", Pablo Neruda calls us to a different kind of silence -- a collective silence, one in which we agree to be silent together, to stop moving, to do nothing in order to live, to "interrupt this sadness."  He considers silence healing and good. Click here to read Neruda's poem.

On a different note and surprisingly,  in response to cochlear implants, some members of the Deaf community prefer to remain in silence, valuing their non-hearing state, rather than considering it a disability.

What many hearing people might not realise is the strong community that exists in the silent world. In fact, it’s more than a community. Deaf people (with a capital D) see themselves more as an ethnic minority, with their own (sign) language, schools and proud history.
The National Association of the Deaf was created by deaf people to advocate for deaf rights in 1880. The Deaf don’t see deafness as a disability but a cultural identity (motto: different but not deficient). It’s a world so warm and welcoming, many wouldn’t want to become hearing, even given the choice.
Read the entire article, Why Not All Deaf People Want to Be Cured in The Telegraph 

Silence envelops us.

Silence envelops us 
in healing
and covers us
all-- in a veil
made of the universe
and drops us into
hallowed and
sacred space

Silence envelops us
in healing
and veils of living--
around our living
beside our living
inside our living

Silence envelops us.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Reflect on your own reactions and responses to silence.  When and where do you seek silence for yourself? When you are with others?

How can you foster silence and what are its  benefits?  

Write a personal essay considering the benefits of silence.
Write a poem about what you hear in the silence.

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