[lit-ideas] Re: The Seamy Side of Semiotics

  • From: John Wager <john.wager1@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 27 May 2008 17:22:03 -0500

Teachers are usually more afraid of silence than students. When I was a student, the very WORST teachers were those who asked questions, but then didn't give ANY time to think of the answer. "What chemical would make that color flame? Sodium!" or "Why was the life of man short for Hobbes? -Without a sovereign humans wouldn't survive very well. What is a sovereign? - The agent to whom everyone turns over their own personal power to. What do sovereigns create? -Commonwealths." Notice not more than one period between sentences for a student to think of the answer. This used to drive me completely crazy! It took me quite a few years of effort, but I finally got to be comfortable with silence in class. When a student asks a question that I really don't know the answer to, I spend as much time as I need to think before answering, and usually ask them a couple of clarifying questions before giving my answer. And when I ask them a question, I wait a VERY long time for an answer--far longer than I was comfortable with. If a student doesn't volunteer the answer, rather than calling on someone and forcing an answer, I just repeat the question, exactly as I first asked it. Sometimes I repeat the question twice. Finally I get an answer.

Believe it or not, most of this came from re-reading the Tao Teh Ching. We overlook the importance of silence. Students need the time to think; teachers rarely give them that time.

I expect that most of the time the "uncomfortable" feeling is a projection of the teacher on the class. Students need to know that silence is our friend, that silence is the space where ideas are born, that being comes out of non-being, that we must forget all the steps we learn along the way when we become proficient at any sport, that we use non-being even when we focus so much on being, that being empty is as important as being full.

This last semester I started using PowerPoint for a class. I've never used it before for a class, preferring to just pick individual "slides" to illustrate a lecture when needed. But I actually developed a course with PowerPoint support. Until your message, I hadn't thought much about what I did, but now that I look back, I realize that I have quite a few completely "black" slides between content slides, just to give the needed "silence" (or the visual equivalent) for students to think.

wokshevs@xxxxxx wrote:
Why is silence so uncomfortable in a philosophy class? I pace back and forth,
mulling over the question and my possible answers, while the students think:

"Oh my god! He doesn't know the answer!!! Should he be teaching this philosophy
class? ..... Btw, what IS the right answer anyway?"

How do YOU deal with such silences in YOUR classrooms?

"Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by incompetence and ignorance." -------------------------------------------------
John Wager                john.wager1@xxxxxxxxxxx
                                  Lisle, IL, USA

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