Cult of Silence

I was in a K-12 school and observed a single file line of kindergardeners walking down the hall behind a young blonde-haired teacher. The first few kids, as they were walking, started to fall to their knees and then slide. It actually looked like a lot of fun and it seemed pretty easy to do. It’s cold and most were wearing sweatpants or thick tights, the perfect attire for a long (and silent) glide along the floor. Soon almost everyone in the line was doing it, but in a very stealthy way. Not a sound was made out of the ordinary, not a giggle or a shred of conversation.

At the turn into another hallway, the young teacher turned around and looked at the line. At that point, only a single boy near the back was on his knees in mid-slide. “You know better not to do that,” she scolded the dark-haired boy. “How many times do we have to remind you to not slide on your knees in the hallway. Do we have to continue to practice walking down the hallway in the right way every single day?”

There was only silence. These kids are five years old and they already had a handle on a kind of social contract to be silent. The boy who was being chastised knew it was best to be quiet too. The whole line knew they should keep their mouths closed. The boy had become the scapegoat and took the heat for the whole group. This would earn him some social points along the way. Or maybe not. In some kind of unanimously agreed upon tacit social code, all the kids knew not to tell the truth.

I remembered back to first grade—Mrs. Furney. She had left the room to go the office. The room was up for grabs. We were running, chasing each other; some were on desks. We were very loud. Then she came back in and we all scurried back to our places. “Jan, come to my desk. NOW.”

She asked me why I was misbehaving and I remember being partly in shock as it dawned on me that I was going to have to take the heat for the whole class. I remember stammering out, “But everyone was misbehaving and shouting.” I knew it was a mistake as soon as I said the words. I had broken the social code.

“I only heard you,” she said. I don’t recall any punishment she wielded, but I do remember having to work really hard, for more than a week, to get back into the good graces of my classmates.

A few minutes later, I saw the same young teacher walking back by herself. I mentioned to her what had happened. “And I was most amazed that they had some kind of understanding to not say anything, already at five years old.”

“Oh, they know better, alright,” she replied.

I don’t know if I exactly understood what she meant. I mean…what about social justice and fairness? But… maybe I should just keep quiet about it.

This entry was posted in growing up, school, social justice, Teaching, truth and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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