Perspective: The Sound Of Silence

Sep 4, 2019

I have been in the college classroom long enough to notice the difference. When I was a TA thirty years ago, it was obligatory to quiet everyone down before commencing the day's discussion because all the students were chatting with each other. 


Now, when I enter a classroom, complete silence reigns. Every single student is fixated on a phone, and hearing snippets of a conversation is a rarity. I have always made a general greeting when I enter, but instead of the chorused reply from years past, I get no response at all. It is as if the greeting never existed. 


There are thousands of articles about the impact of technology on our habits, neurological development, behaviors, lifestyles, economies, health and time management, but every time I enter a silent classroom, I am struck at the magnitude of this change.  


Teaching Spanish conversation is almost painful because so many students have lost the habit of speaking to one another. If these students aren't forming friendships in college, a prime time in life for meeting new people, what will their social life look like in their thirties, forties and fifties? I try to engage them by forming discussion groups, forcing them to learn each other's names and sharing contact information to encourage more interaction, but every time I enter a silent classroom, I long for those days when I had to quiet them down before beginning the day's lesson. 


I’m Frances Jaeger and that’s my perspective.