“‘…undesirable talk’ by students, teachers, parents, and community members is subverted, appropriated, and exported, [and] educational policies and procedures obscure the very social, economic, and therefore experiential conditions of students’ daily lives while they expel critical ‘talk’ about these conditions from written, oral, and nonverbal expression.”
– Fine and Weis, Silenced Voices and Extraordinary Conversations: Re-Imagining Schools, 2003, p. 14
I join with Michelle Fine and Lois Weis as they suggest that this silencing “signifies a terror of words, a fear of talk” (p. 14), and to argue that this status quo-preserving silencing is made up of practices and acts of individual teachers, principals, and other actors within school systems, but that these individual acts are based on underlying structures that preserve the ideology of equal opportunity in order to maintain the flow of benefits to those in power (pp. 15-17).
In effect, those of us in power (like teachers, school administrators) often unintentionally (but not always) silence any talk that we think might disrupt the status quo that preserves our power and the rhetoric of equal opportunity. PAR, and liberatory, critical educational approaches like those pioneered by Paulo Freire, seek to undo these status quo-preserving policies of silencing.
Although we might think of it as “un-silencing,” it seems to me that it is instead a process of turning heads and opening ears to those voices that are often already shouting, but being deliberately unheard.
Mila, an SSS student, says about this process she has been a part of:
I feel like, I don’t know, I think it’s like, kind of, cheesy. But I feel like it [this project] gives us a voice, in a way.
Like, I feel like I’ve had a lot in mind about this school, and about issues that I’ve seen, that I’ve noticed in the school. And I feel like when we all sat there and when we would vibe with you, some of the things that were brought up that we hadn’t noticed or…you know, it just gave us a good, it was a good experience for us to be able to talk about like, just some of the things that we had on our minds.
Like even how we tried finding a way to talk to teachers so they could understand us. I think that was great because I feel like I had misunderstood so many teachers and I kind of didn’t really like them, or I would rather not associate with them or have them as a teacher at all. And I feel like now I can actually sit there and listen to their point of view. And then you know, see what they have to say and let them know what I have to say. I feel like it helped me not be so afraid of speaking out in class. Because I feel like it’s more, it’s easier for me. It’s easier for me to speak out and tell the teachers what I’m thinking.
I did have a voice but I was more afraid to kind of, speak out. It’s weird because now, I feel like, you know how we would talk and how we would be able to raise our hand and say when we saw racism? And then how you guys, even Mrs. James or you or somebody else would be like, “Yeah, that’s true, what she’s saying.” And I feel like, that’s kind of made me more confident in what I had to say.
I’ve been in a youth group at church and I feel like the class helped me be more confident in what I wanted to say and so I started speaking out in youth group, and I would give out ideas, and I would volunteer to help and stuff. And so they nominated me and a few other people, the other teenagers to be in a committee group at the youth group because they saw leadership skills.
And so I think that’s kind of what this class helped me out with a lot. More leadership skills.