The Collegian
Friday, September 22, 2023

Silence is precious if you don't know what you're talking about

Some of the most irritating experiences that can occur in a classroom setting, in my experience, happen because of class participation policies.

I can cite numerous times when students, particularly in my General Education requirement classes, have raised their hands only to say the most redundant and pointless things.

I can't even count the times when a professor has asked for the meaning, theme, plot, scope, format, content or ethical dilemma of a piece of writing, only for a student, who you KNOW hasn't read the book/article/essay, to raise his or her hand and say something useless.

It's not that the student is unintelligent by any means.

In fact, on the contrary, I have full trust in Richmond's admissions department and believe that the criteria it uses for selecting students is of the highest standards.

The problem starts with day one of classes when students are reviewing their syllabi.

Pop Quizzes: 10 percent

Homework: 10 percent

Midterm Exam: 20 percent

Final Exam: 20 percent

Participation/Attendance: 40 percent

Are you kidding me? Forty percent for class participation and attendance?

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At this point, it doesn't even matter whether I do well or not on my quizzes, midterm and final. The anxiety has already set in that if I don't participate, I will fail this class.

I don't see why students should be forced to raise their hand when they are taking the class because they (more often than not) have little to no prior knowledge of subject.

That's why they're taking the class: to be taught, not to teach other students in the class.

Granted, I understand that professors want to foster ideal classroom environments where everyone is giving their opinion, and students are smiling and highlighting quicker than Mubarak can leave Egypt ... oh, wait.

But seriously, what the hell? If students have something meaningful to say, they will raise their hands. And here's another shocker: Try calling on your students.

If they don't know, they'll feel less worried for saying so because they know it won't come out of their final grade.

We, as students, are in control of our destiny.

We are molding our brains and persons into how we will think and who we will become in the future.

But, how can college be what we want to make it, if we have someone forcing us to talk? We're paying, so if we want to remain silent, we should have that option without being penalized.

Granted, not everyone is paying for their own education. Regardless of whether you, Mommy and Daddy or even a hefty scholarship is paying for you to attend Richmond, we should have the option of whether or not we would like to contribute to a class discussion.

There are a plethora of ways for students to become involved during class without mandating hand-raising.

Small group discussions/role-plays/projects are a great way for students who feel uncomfortable speaking in front of large classes to get involved.

But there isn't even a need to cater to shy students because this is Richmond and inevitably, every student will have at least 5-10 presentations or speeches to give by the time they graduate, so trying to get away without saying anything at this university is impossible.

Mandating participation doesn't prepare students for the big, bad world.

Yes, in the real world, when you have a job and a boss, you will have to do things you don't want to, like talk in meetings and give pitches.

This is because in the real cruel, cruel world you'll get fired for saying something that wastes two minutes of your boss' "precious" time.

So I don't really see how applicable forcing students to participate truly is a "life lesson."

Professors are not doing students a favor by rewarding them for saying nothing.

Mandatory student participation fosters an environment in which students begin to talk without even thinking.

A friend of mine told me about a lecture he went to last semester that was given by an elderly professor from Harvard University.

The professor began the lecture by saying, "I believe that we all have opinions on this topic and, since we are in the States, your opinion will be as valid as mine even though you don't know what you are talking about and I have dedicated my life to the study of this issue."

Not only do I find that statement comical, but I also find it to be true. Every day I notice students who act like they've been alive for five decades.

They act like they know everything and even when they don't, they act like their bullshit is made of 18-karat gold. He or she knows everything, has done everything and has seen everything.

Apparently he or she also knows what Jim Casy's role in The Grapes of Wrath is and how his moral philosophy has governed the novel as a whole, even though he/she has never read the book or watched the movie, "but heard Mom call it a classic after she made me read the back cover at a Barnes & Noble once."

If you didn't read it or don't know it, DON'T RAISE YOUR HAND, FOOL! You're just giving the professor a headache and me early signs of crows' feet.

Contact staff writer Liz Monahan at

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