Friday, April 16, 2010

Voice and Silence

Today many of our students have chosen to observe the National Day of Silence, a national youth-run movement that uses silence to protest harassment, bias and abuse in schools, particularly of the kind that targets gay, lesbian and transgender individuals. I, myself, will not observe this silent protest, although I have made it clear that I absolutely support the right of my students to do so without consequence. My classes all have exams today (I did not include an oral component), so there is not a great need on my part to accommodate instruction, but communicating about the several bits and pieces of their work still has to take place. We will do this in several ways:

Email. Many do this as a primary mode of communication already.

White board and marker. I cleaned my boards to make space for them to write, so they could leave me notes, ask questions and share stuff about the day that was important. I didn’t make this invitation explicit by telling them why the boards were clean; I don’t really have to do that. At my school, any clean white board is assumed to be simply waiting for them to write or draw on it.

Post-it and index card. The post-its go on the work they’re handing in. The index cards (which I substituted with regular pieces of paper this year to save money) sit out on my podium for them to take around the school with them, when they need to talk to each other.

Sign language. Many of my students also know a bit of ASL or can at least fingerspell. I can follow it pretty well, so they use that to talk about some of the formulaic things. We also have certain kinds of signs for common things like going to the bathroom, getting a drink, looking for paper and pencil (these exist to minimize disruption during class).

The question that is asked as part of the event this year is, “What are you going to do to end the silence?” My answer to this as twofold. First I will, as I do every day, work to end the need for silence by using my voice to speak out against harassment and abuse of all forms and to encourage others to speak out in whatever way they feel they can. Second, I will continue to create a space of safety and security that promotes acceptance and inclusion, and treat everyone in my world with the love and compassion they deserve. I hope that by providing an example of the kind of behavior I value, my students will understand that judicious use of voice as well as silence can be a force for change.

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