- Between Speaking and Silence: A Study of Quiet Students
Mary Reda’s Between Speaking and Silence is an analysis of silence in the composition classroom and how so-called quiet students view their silence. Reda begins by describing how educational standards have shifted in America in the last fifty years. At one time it was standard procedure for students to sit silently and accumulate knowledge from their professors. Now, however, educational models value pedagogies of dialogue and therefore prize outspoken students more than quiet ones. Reda takes this new model of education and dissects it using student interviews and theory from composition scholars in order to better understand student silence and the reasons behind it.
As for the structure of the book, Reda uses the first chapter to describe the format for her study. Other research materials Reda uses include student journals, her own teaching journal, and several interviews with self-proclaimed “quiet students.” The second chapter of the study discusses the traditional views of silence within the classroom and how we now conceptualize student silence negatively. The third chapter is an autoethnographic study of the author’s experiences both as a quiet student and as a vocal student. This chapter is particularly interesting both because it gives the audience a firsthand account of the author’s history with classroom silence and how it affects her teaching, and because few authors dedicate an entire chapter to their history with their research topic. Chapter four is a brief contextualization of student interviews. It describes the profile of the student population, introduces the five students Reda uses for her study, and describes why these particular students were chosen. Chapters five and six discuss how students view their own silence and how they believe it is perceived by their teachers. While most of the students find that their quietness is problematic in the classroom, they explain why they remain silent despite professors’ obvious attempts to bring them into discussion. Chapter six also discusses student identity and how it affects classroom behavior; this is where Reda really delves into feminist and cultural [End Page 160] pedagogy. The seventh and final chapter describes alternative interpretations of student silence and offers the idea that silence can be a positive addition to the classroom experience. There is also an appendix of Teaching Practices for facilitating classroom discussion that students may find less threatening. The book ends with notes, a bibliography, and an index.
Throughout the book, Reda discusses both speaking and silence as political acts within the classroom. Given the academic hierarchy in a college classroom, Reda feels that silence can be a reaction to the “systems of control” that have been placed upon students by academia (6). While many teachers perceive silence to be evidence of passivity or inattention, Reda ascertains that silence is indeed an action, and in many ways it has the potential to be more communicative than student speech. Contrarily, most liberatory campaigns such as the feminist movement demand that silence be broken and the voices of the oppressed be heard. In the United States, speaking has become synonymous with power; Reda quotes bell hooks as follows: “Moving from silence to speech [i]s a revolutionary act . . . Speaking becomes both a way to engage in active self-transformation and a rite of passage where one moves from being object to being subject” (932–33). Reda speculates that part of the reason contemporary teachers value speech is because they want students to feel empowered and follow that rite of passage from object to subject.
While Reda cites bell hooks and other feminist critics, she also points out that, despite the usefulness of feminist theory and multicultural theory for analyzing classroom silence, they do not “provide conclusive data about gender or race” (15). However, Reda’s own research concludes that female students are typically quieter than male students, and that students of color are typically quieter than Caucasian students. There are several possible reasons for this gender- and race-related silence. In terms of gender, silence is often...