Speak Up

At the Philo Forum on honesty last fall, I was particularly struck by Paz Mendez Hodes ’07’s comments on the classroom phenomenon of the overly talkative student that everyone dislikes. To paraphrase, Mendez Hodes talked of how “raising your hand makes you vulnerable” in a classroom, and that “no one wants to be ‘that kid’” who dominates discussion and breeds resentment from their peers. I am particularly dismayed at this stigma against talkative students. Personally, my favorite “class” is Life Issues, which being exclusively discussion represents the intellectual ideal of a classroom to me. In my Life Issues class everyone feels free to voice their opinions and is encouraged to contribute to discussion. I believe that the current Andover stigma against being “that kid” takes away from this classroom ideal and breeds a culture of anti-intellectualism (which Mendez Hodes also mentioned). How ironic is it that in the most academically rigorous secondary school in America, students discourage intellectualism? Although there are many types of “that kid,” a few of them are more deserving of score than others. The first type of “that kid” is the reason the Facebook group “Sit down and Shut up” was created: this student is digressive in class, asks questions on material the teacher just explained, speaks for the exclusive purpose of boosting their participation grade (or to hear themselves speak), or is consistently blatantly wrong—such as in quantitative subjects, or when in English or History textual evidence can be provided to directly contradict the points of this student. This student irritates all his classroom peers (and sometimes the teacher as well) intellectuals and slackers alike. (Interestingly, there is an Exonian slang term for this type of student: the “Harkness Warrior.”) The second type is more forgiving. This student is consistently on point in classroom discussion can legitimately debate with their peers or the teacher (and win sometimes), provides arguments based on close textual analysis, and it generally successful in moving the class forward. This student is also usually resented (perhaps to a lesser extent than the first type, however), though often for different reasons. Often, our second type of “that kid” can be particularly vociferous or provides harsh (if valid) criticisms in peer reviews in English, for example. This can be particularly hurtful to the students on the other end of “that kid” especially when “that kid” proves our other ended student definitively wrong in a debate. Now, how do we curve this stigma of anti-intellectualism, without turning every Andover student into a digressive machine of verbosity? A teacher might offer discussion grade deductions for digressive discourse—i.e. discussion point deductions for any student who tries to offer an answer to the meaning of life by expanding on “this one time at band camp”—or simply assertiveness on the instructors part in cutting off our Type 1 “That Kid.” For example, in History 340, Dr. Quattlebaum frequently zips right past any student whom he feels is getting too digressive—I know from personal experience. The other more obvious is that some students should stop being metaphoric “sore losers”—that is, no behind-the-back bickering is necessary if a Type 2 “that kid” has said a particularly cutting comment in class. Personal attacks are of course inappropriate, but if our Type 2 has intellectually shut down his bitter counterpart, the counterpart should either defend their points or accept Type 2’s criticisms and points as valid. Especially if Type 2’s comments are generally salient and positively contribute to the class, our bitter counterpart’s resentment is counterproductive to the intellectual atmosphere at Andover, and the progression of the class. Finally, it should be noted that most talkative students fall somewhere in between my Type 1 and Type 2 categorizations and that there is no panacea for anti-intellectualism. I only hope that both the talkers and their peers that resent them can find a happy medium with their respective attitudes and both parties can work toward making Andover classrooms a more intellectual place.