Discussions can be a great tool for students to learn and talk about different ideas in their classes. They give everyone a chance to voice their unique perspective, which is what makes them such an important tool. However you lose some people’s unique point of view if they are too afraid of being ostracized to speak their mind.
Personally, I have almost always felt comfortable speaking my mind at school. People are generally respectful even when they disagree which is an important part to making people feel safe in what they are saying. Teachers have always emphasized the importance of attacking the idea, not the person who has that idea. This was especially true in my sophomore English class, where we were doing a mock mock trial and we had to talk through our constitutional reasoning for why we thought each case was right or wrong. My teacher, Mr. Kay emphasized the importance of refuting the argument, not attacking the character of the person. This kept the discussion respectful and civil.
The conversation was difficult at times, especially because people were discussing something they are passionate about. However, learning this skill now as a student will be important for the rest of our lives.
I can definitely understand why someone would feel intimidated or even scared to share an opinion that may be unpopular with the class. Even if people are only attacking your idea if enough people do it it could start to feel overwhelming.
There is more to being uncomfortable than people just disagreeing though. It is a difficult skill to master, but actually listening to other people’s ideas is just as important as being respectful. You are not actually gaining anything from the discussion if you don’t really care what everyone else has to say, you are just waiting your turn to speak.
I’ve noticed this can be a problem in many discussions when people will just say stuff seemingly just to have “participated.” This happens most frequently when students have not adequately prepared. I distinctly remember a friend who had not prepared at all for a discussion of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaids Tale.” His plan was to just sort of go along with what people were saying, but this did now work as well as he hoped. All of his points, though mostly true, did not really add to the discussion since there was nothing that had not already been said. I think the criteria for participation can be a bit narrow when we say you have to talk a certain amount of times, because then people are just trying to get their turn to say something, and do not care as much what they actually say.
Participating is about much more than just saying your sentence you wrote down in your notebook, it is about seeing other people’s perspective and learning from it. If you don’t feel like anyone cares, you might not even feel inclined to share your thoughts either.
When I go to college next year, I hope that my professors will place the same emphasis on including different perspectives and being respectful even when there are disagreements. This is an integral part of education and I think SLA got it right.
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