Wednesday, March 9, 2011


The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference. ---Elie Wiesel

Oh, how I am growing to love Elie Wiesel more and more each and every time I read something by him. I know he's famous for Night but I just started A Mad Desire to Dance and it's phenomenal.

Wiesel gets me fired up, about becoming an educator, a writer, a reader, and an activist. I don't understand how people read what he writes and not be inspired, engaged, and, possibly even a little outraged about what has happened to humanity. Holocaust Lit is wrapping up Night at the moment, and I have been hitting a wall with this class.

Maybe it's the fact that Holocaust Lit is first block, first class in the morning. Maybe it's the fact that I am not as confident as my CT in leading discussions. Maybe the content is just so shocking to these kids. Whatever the reason, I CANNOT get these kids to talk.

I don't want to take their silence as indifference to the subject at hand, but day in and day out, that is what it feels like. I have a handful of kids whom I know I can depend on when the others are not willing to contribute to discussion, but I feel terrible for calling on them when the awkward 45-second silence has taken hold and I feel trapped. I try to call on everyone, but many kids will just sit there and say, "um... I dunno."

How do I cultivate meaningful discussion on a subject that requires activism in a class that has been resistant for an entire term? One student gave a presentation on human trafficking ( and it was completely shocking. Did you know that I-80 is used for mass amounts of human trafficking? I did not. We sat for a full 60 seconds in silence and no one said anything. I called on someone who doesn't normally talk, saying, "what are you thinking about all of this?" and his response was, "I'm thinking about how nobody talks in this class."

Granted, this term is almost over, and a new group of kids will be shuffling in, but I'm wondering what to do if I encounter this again. When we discussed the difference between perpetrators, victims, and bystanders, I introduced the term indifference, asking what it was. And they sat there in silence. I wanted to say, "think about what you're doing right NOW."

I don't think these kids are indifferent. Many of them indicate their understanding through written reflection. Many are brilliant writers. However, trying to lead discussion on a heavy subject when your class won't talk can sometimes be a little nerve-wracking. I hope this is something I just gain with experience.


  1. Mmm....hard! I remember being in classes and being scared to put things out there. I remember one teacher would always lead us with prompts the night before....for when we were doing the reading....then, we were asked to bring an answer to that prompt with us to class. It gave us something pre-thought, concrete, that we knew we could say. Practicing talking does make it easier. So getting them to practice seems good, even if its in more of a prompt, repsonse sort of way instead of conversation....conversation will come! Keep it up Lauren. Emily

  2. I remember this would occasionally happen in Contemporary Literature last semester. Amanda and I would have brilliant discussion questions ready to go and the students would just STARE. However, I agree with Emily that it helps tremendously to give students time to pre-write on the subject. It might also be a good idea to involve more small group work if this is not typical already. I found that the students did a much better job reporting to the entire class when they were able to talk in small groups. I agree with you in noting that these students are able to give thoughtful written reflections. However, it can be difficult to start a fire in the classroom when it is the first period! I would suggest asking students to do a pre-write and allowing them time to talk in small groups. As teachers we often enjoy the large class discussions the most because we can hear everyone’s contributions, but perhaps by walking among the small groups you can find the opportunity to share your thoughts.