In the swirl of thoughts that invade my brain before sleep, one from this past week sticks out.
I am in the middle of my media literacy class.
It is an extremely uncomfortable place for two reasons:
1) Nobody answers the professor when she asks questions.
2) Outside of forced conversation, nobody speaks.
It’s like a game of chicken– the question is asked and we sit in silence until someone speaks up (I could go on about how problematic that alone is, which is undoubtedly a result of fear of judgement by other peers, or embarrassment at not knowing the correct answer).
No one says anything. Our professor knits her eyebrows together anxiously, helplessly scanning the room for hands, for eyes, for any sign that someone will open their mouth, but it remains a stubborn, silent duel.
I have answered her questions many times. And every time I do, I think back to elementary and middle school, where the common ideology was that if you always raised your hand to answer, you were either the teacher’s pet or a know-it-all. I can’t say those labels haven’t deterred me from answering or participating in class in the past, but I was sick of it.
If no one was going to answer to move the class and our lives along, I would.
She was asking about the flaws with the theory that the media permeates human minds like a hypodermic needle, bending the thoughts, ideas, and actions of defenseless humans to the media’s will (also known as bullet theory).
I answered her question with, what I thought, was a simple response, clear as to what I meant.
I replied with, and I quote:
“This theory is problematic in that it fails to address human agency.”
While she acknowledged my answer and the fact that it was correct, she recommended that I explain my answer in “plain English” for the class.
For a second, I was unsure of what to say, too baffled to be offended.
I thought about the class– were they insulted? Did a class of 18-20 year olds really need a breaking down?
Thoughts one after another went through my mind
This is a college class….
And then I realized.
More times than I can count, I’ve witnessed myself (and others!) feel a need to “dumb down”. Whether that’s in class or in social situations, there have been times where raising my hand (or not) or using obscure vocabulary (or not) has been censored by perceived social consequences.
Why is this?
Why is it so hard to speak up? Why is it so easy to fall into lower standards of conversation of slang merely for the approval of others? Since when was a wide vocabulary a turn-off? Why do we fall so easily into these rigid sets of “expectations”?
After that class I knew I needed to do something.
And that something was to stop expecting expectations. Rather, to shatter them and participate in ways that are meaningful and beneficial to my interests and what I hope to accomplish from any given transaction, inside or outside the classroom.
Today in my education class my professor asked for volunteers. Observing that the class/ hesitation, he scolded us jokingly and said that when he taught kindergarten and barely finished uttering the word “volunteer”, there’d be a sea of hands shooting up to participate, to experience, to learn.
What we need is the adoption of the inhibition levels of kindergartners, free of social censorship, fear of judgement, perfection, and stigma towards saying what we want to say, however eloquently we desire.
What we need is to stop “dumbing down”.
What we need is to start “learning up”.