Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Educated to remain silent

Some of you might think that once you start university life you enter a world full of intellectual and exciting discussions about politics, history, society and all these other things adults talk about. However during my past three years of university, I was able to observe another phenomenon and I think that its’ roots lie in the education we had during our school life.

When I took my A level exams, which was in 2010, I had absolved 13 years of school and I have to admit, that I was never that kind of student who would participate during lessons for several reasons:

1) I did not want to embarrass myself by giving a wrong answer.

2) I did not want to look like a know-it-all in front of my classmates (funny thing: I never considered other students who participated in class regularly as know-it-alls. To me they were just smart).

3) In general, I never had the desire to be the focus of attention in any way.

4) In other cases I was just too late. When I thought about saying something, I had to think about what I wanted to say very, very thoroughly. I had to prepare my statement word by word, turning it over again and again until it was too late. This was a big problem in my majors French and English.

The result was, that teachers always told me to say more during class, but that they also knew I had some kind of potential, because my grades in exams were normally quite decent (not extra-ordinary).

To make a long story short, being an introvert who keeps his thoughts for himself is a facet of your personality which naturally keeps you from taking part during a discussion. If you do not get rid of this habit, you are most likely to behave that way during university as well and this is what my life here has actually been:

Being the audience and not the actor

What really surprised me though is that there seems to be a general tendency to lethargy among my peers. It is not just me. It is an entire group of people who refuse to start a discussion.
This semester I had some really interesting classes about social systems and discrimination in Asia and about knowledge about Korea at the end of the 19. century. During every class 2 to 3 people would share a presentation about a certain topic with some time at the end to ask questions or just talk about that topic. The general reaction:

Nobody says a thing.

As a speaker, I know that it is a very uncomfortable feeling sitting there and hoping for some resonance, but there is nothing. You look at these people and all you see is a huge void behind their eyes and inside their heads.

Especially in our class about Korea, our teacher tries to encourage us to discuss by pointing out interesting facts or asking questions, but everyone just tends to look at their papers and stay silent.

At this point, I can already see people exclaiming:
“Well, why don’t you say something, if it bothers you that much??”

But the thing is that there is nothing inside my head. Even though I try to really listen to the presentations and think of aspects that interest me or are questionable, there is nothing. Nothing comes to my mind. Maybe the others feel the same?

At school, we were not really encouraged to discuss and it was not so important as well. If you are an introvert like me, you were always able to balance out your grades by writing a good exam. If you failed, well, you were fucked. But in general, you were not very dependent on your oral contributions to class.

I refuse to believe, that I live in a generation without beliefs or opinions. Everyone has an opinion about something, but we never learned to express them. We never learned to defend them and we never learned to rely on our own thoughts.

All we learned at school was how to write a perfectly fine essay about world famous literature making use of the “approved” opinion of others and not our own.  We learned, that a statement is only valuable, if you can proof it with another one.  It is something we were taught at school and it gets even worse at university, where you have to back up everything your write or say with something else.
Instead of stimulating the development of new intellectual approaches, we just sit there copying other peoples’ works.

I actually want to overcome this void inside me. I want to have something to say and ask questions, but it is so difficult, if you have never learned it. We know how to fill our heads with knowledge. It is familiar for us sit there for hours memorizing facts.
And still we are not able to take some time and ask ourselves what we think – what we feel. We are unable to use our brains to its’ fullest potential.

So, this time I came up with a question, because it is impossible for me to find an answer:

Why does nobody say something and how can we overcome this lethargy?

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