Silent and Compliant

I was born to speak up or so it seems.  My mother taught us all the value of our words and of our spine.  I am sure she regretted it at times as we would battle fiercely as children when we felt wronged by our siblings.  She taught us to speak up, but do so kindly.  To stand our ground but not lose sight.  To question but not in a spiteful way.  To not settle, but to fight when needed, and not just fight for ourselves, but for others who needed our help.

Yet, when I became a teacher, it seems I forgot all of those lessons.  I did not teach my students to question.  I did not ask them to speak up.  I did not ask them what they stood for because that was not in my lesson plan.  We had science, math, reading, and writing to do.  Figuring out who they were and what they needed was not in my standards.  Thus it it was not my job to teach kids to be empowered.  To empower others.  To fight for change.

Instead my job, it seemed, was to make them silent and compliant.  Silent when they do their work.  Silent when the teacher speaks.  Silent in the hallways, thanks PBIS, whisper voices in the lunch room.  Don’t raise your voice unless you are outside.  Don’t raise your voice even when wronged.  Don’t raise your voice…

Do as I say and do it now.  Do as I say and do not ask why.  Do as I say and not as I do, because I am the adult in the room, and my rules only apply to you.  The better you were at being silent and compliant, the nicer of a kid we thought you were.  There goes someone who knows what it means to go to school.  There goes someone who we can be proud of.

I once had a child ask me straight up why they should do something.  The first time it happened, I was shocked at the audacity.  How dare they question my directions?  The second time it happened I brushed it off, and yet, as kids will be kids, there were always those kids who questioned.  Why is this important?  Why do we do it this way?  Why do I have to do this?  It wasn’t until I realized just what silent and compliant would do to my own ferocious daughter, a two year old at the time who never sat still it seemed, that I realized the damage I was doing.  That I realized that I had forgotten the lessons my mother had taught me.  That I was complicit in creating a populace that would be afraid to question authority.  That I would help create a polucae that does not seek answers on their own.  That we would look at all of the fake news and wonder why we are all falling for it?

So now I ask for silence so they can think.  I ask for silence when they read, or whisper voices if they need to share during that time.  But when we learn, I ask for them to question, I ask for them to discuss, to share their thoughts, to not just listen but to think.  To seek out knowledge beyond what I present.  To find an opinion, to fight for an opinion.  To find out what matters and stand up for it.  To create a cacophony of noise as they learn so they can process the information better.  There is still silence in our classroom when needed, but it is a privilege afforded to all who request it, it is used with purpose and not for control.

I ask them to follow directions yes, we all do, but I also tell them why.  I ask them to tell me how they can learn better so we can create a better classroom experience.  I earn their respect rather than demand it and for some that takes a long time.

Yes, we need kids that will follow directions, that know when to be quiet in our schools.  But we must not forget that that was never the point of an education.  That creating robots, afraid to speak up, who follow every direction blindly is one of the last things we should be striving for.  Because those robots grow up and their silence grows with them.   We can look to our history books to see what happens when adults stop speaking up and speaking out.

So do not lose your vision for what the future should look like for the kids you teach.  I wish I hadn’t.  I wish I would have embraced the questions rather than silenced them.  I wish I would have had the courage to have them question me so that i could realize why I did the things I did, rather than just follow the program.

I teach my own children to speak up, to stand up, to do so with kindness, but to stand firm when they believe in their own convictions.  They fight my husband and I, of course, but we also smile on the inside because we know that when they are older, when they must stand by themselves, they will continue to question, to advocate, and to not be afraid to demand action. So I teach my students to speak up as well.  To do so with kindness, but to stand tall.  Our schools should be filled with voices, and not just those of teachers, is yours?

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 .   Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 .   Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

5 thoughts on “Silent and Compliant

  1. Pernille, This is a great reminder to all teachers and parents. I really like your words “to speak up, stand up and do it with kindness”. Actually, that is a great reminder for all of us during these difficult times. Thank you for your thoughts. -Susan

  2. An excellent message!! As you said, the school system often tells students that their passive quiet and acceptance is the ideal, so it’s refreshing to see a teacher that actively encourages speaking up. In this modern world, voicing your opinion can directly affect decisions made by people in power and be a catalyst for change. Refusing to be silent is especially important in the face of institutions that discourage dissent and impose on human rights. Your eloquent writing effectively conveys your message and inspires. I hope to see more quality posts in the future!

  3. Whoa! This was so amazing, Pernille. Really helps me to put things into perspective. I was at a conference where an author named Cynthia Tobias was talking about strong-willed children. She said, “All the things that get you in trouble at school are the things people will hire you for as an adult.” In short, we’re squashing the things that will turn them into future leaders. Thanks for this reminder.

  4. Yes!! I completely agree! It’s like you write exactly what I’m feeling! Thank you! I also love your point about how your own daughter helped you take a look at things a little differently. I, too, have experienced this and feel that my experience with my own children going growing up and going through school has helped me be a much better teacher.

  5. Pingback: The Ideal Class – Perhaps You Already Have It? |

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