I spent the rest of the day, yesterday, worrying that it was my fault. I’d turned and shushed someone at the cinema because they were speaking right behind me throughout the movie. I’m sorry. It’s a thing with me: that expectation that people should know that sometimes they need to be silent. And hopefully not eat noisily. At the end, the gentleman waited behind to, we thought, apologise. But no. He explained that we were being rude for shushing him because he wasn’t talking, he was whispering. And that was stuck with me: is it me that can’t quite grasp that we live in a society where silence is almost unheard of?
Is it any wonder the children in our classes find silence so challenging, find sitting down to read for any amount of extended time, challenging? Walking towards the cinema in Glasgow yesterday we are bombarded with music: Christmas jingles, street entertainers, buskers. And the buskers are amped up now. Noise is everywhere. Perhaps noise becomes the wallpaper to our lives. And before you assume I’m a just a grumpy old man, failing to deal with the modern world, think about the times in your life when you have complete silence. Even in classrooms, we get to the point where a silent classroom is a ‘boring’ one.
It turns out, however, that the only way anyone develops a love of reading is through sitting quietly with a book. That kids tend not to see reading as something they would choose to do over, say, playing on their consoles, while to an extent being a myth, has some grounds. But how often do we allow them to sit in silence in classes these days? Our desks in groups, our co-operative learning strategies in place, it seems that to look into a classroom and see thirty eleven year olds sitting reading in silence just ain’t ‘sexy’ teaching any more.
The sad reality is that it’s more than likely that half of that class are secretly praying to be sitting in silence. The peace to get on with things, unencumbered by the nonsense of the day, the distractions of the class clowns, the teacher droning. In secondary school, half an hour of hard work, writing in silence, can be a joy. It can provide the only opportunity for me to chat quietly to those who need it most, to intervene on a one-to-one basis. It’s lovely and calm and, sometimes grudgingly, my pupils really appreciate it.
So, I’m not sure if I can forgive my cinema friend for finding it difficult to distinguish between talking and whispering. Perhaps he genuinely didn’t know. Perhaps whispering is his silence. We all exited to the maelstrom of noise in the busy city centre outside and went about our business. However, I returned to school all the more convinced that we need to provide that space for our pupils. It’s why our libraries should be libraries and not Information Centre/ Cafes. It’s why our classrooms need not always be noisy and collaborative. We think best when we are silent. We learn best when we are silent. So, for at least some time during our day, let’s be silent.