Silence in higher education

How often is a classroom completely silent? Many teachers would it is a rare occurrence. The idea of silence makes most students uncomfortable, yet it can be a powerful teaching tool. How can this be so? Well, silencing our thoughts opens up opportunities for both reflection and evaluation of life’s challenges. Many of the Eastern systems teach of practicing mindfulness in daily living. While our busy schedules often won’t permit this, those who practice meditation frequently praise the benefits. Although it would be inappropriate to ask our students to meditate, as it may be against their religious beliefs, we can ask them to be silent and alone with their thoughts.

I recently asked my students to engage in a visualization exercise. I learned this technique from a book I read over the summer. The author suggested that before you begin a task with a clear objective in mind, you must first visual how you want the process to end. I asked my students to sit in silence and visualize how they wanted their year to end. I asked them to imagine how their work would look and the comments that each professor would make at their final assessment. Afterwards, I asked them if they felt the experience was positive or negative. If they answered negative, I suggested that they initiate steps to alter their perceptions of the outcome. I concluded by recommending they repeat the exercise several times throughout the year.

I could tell some students felt uncomfortable with closing their eyes and remaining silent, however, others seemed to benefit from the experience. It is not easy to become introspective without silence so this type of activity is helpful for students to become more inwardly focused. I have found that young people find internalization a challenge, perhaps because they spend much time focused on external events. I believe it is helpful for young adults to examine their perceptions, attitudes and values to become more whole and balanced individuals. They say silence is golden, so why has it become so rare in our educational system?

© Reid Anderson, 2010. All rights reserved.