Op-ed: Speaking up in class improves learning experiences

I always raised my hand in middle school with the hope of answering every question the teacher asked, but my classmates rolled their eyes when I spoke because my passion for participation was jarring. Both my classmates and teachers called me “perky” and “bubbly.” Because of this, I wondered if my enthusiasm for active participation in class was a bad thing.

I started to participate less when I entered high school. I looked around the classroom before raising my hand to make sure other students also had their hands raised. I chose to stay silent even if I knew the answer to the teacher’s question simply because no one else tried to answer that question. I essentially became invisible in class.

The fear of speaking up in class scarred me, and to my surprise, I’m not the only one that felt barred from active class engagement. Last semester, one of my friends in my journalism class told me she used to count the number of times she raised her hand, trying to limit it within 10.

In college classes I wonder if active participation should be considered negative for students. Typically, people dislike things they find unfamiliar, and students confidently speaking up in classrooms is one of them. Since most of the classes at Emerson are taught seminar-style, participation in class constitutes a large portion of their grade. Therefore, some students see those who always participate in class as “suck-ups” who try to impress their professors for a better grade. Some even think of them as “know-it-alls” who are self-centered and love to hear themselves talk, instead of allowing them to voice their opinion.

Labeling is dangerous—people stay silent even when they have something to say because they are afraid of a dissenter or of ridicule from their peers. Such fear prevents students from sharing their own points of view and encourages people to not contribute on important issues in class discussions. Nearly one in six college students have some form of anxiety, according to an article in The New York Times. This common presence of anxiety can exacerbate students’ fear to speak in front of peers in class.

The fear of disapproval should not validate silence, because talking to someone who doesn’t necessarily agree with you can actually have benefits. Vulnerability, the acknowledgement of others’ perspectives, and constructive criticism polish one’s thoughts and make our arguments stronger. I love debating with my friends, even though we sometimes end up angry at each other. Small, friendly arguments allow me to rethink my opinions and improve them.

To stop participating in class would limit the learning experiences for everyone. Engaging actively and asking questions is something that should be respected, not despised. The purpose of a seminar-style class should be to think about new ideas, to debate, and to discuss. An enthusiastic classmate who asks questions and provides answers can help everyone learn more and create an improved class dynamic.

In a world where people constantly hide their thoughts, voicing comments becomes even more critical—especially in class. Sometimes students hide their thoughts about the class and don’t ask questions when they are confused, which leads to an increased misunderstanding.

Instead of judging someone for raising their hand, people should respect those who are active in the classrooms, not only for their bravery, but also for their passion toward what they are learning.

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