My unpleasant experiences in today’s libraries (both academic and public) have led me to seek out the source of what I perceive as a serious problem in modern education. The problem is noise, specifically the noise of human vocal interactions in places once revered as sanctuaries of silence.
It might come as a surprise to some people that modern librarians no longer guarantee generally quiet atmospheres for introspective learning. Even more surprising is the fact that these librarians shun silence, while they actively endorse what they consider livelier, more engaging learning environments.
From the perspective of an adult who understands learning as a deeply personal affair, this relaxed attitude towards noise in libraries is disabling. The reality of excessive noise in once-quiet spaces, thus, raises the question, “What has gone wrong in the minds of educators who now lead the charge in a battle against traditional quiet?”
Just as classical values in the visual arts fell out of favor under the forces of popular, naïve revolts against perceived authority, so have classical values in education fallen out of favor under forces of similar naïve revolts. The process seems to have taken a little longer in education, but the end result is the same-a vacuous, relativist philosophy whose proponents denounce all authority by using authoritative arguments against the concept of authority itself.
A number of visual artists now realize that this outdated, cyclical contradiction has gotten civilization nowhere, except lost and longing for meaning.
As both an artist and a dedicated library user, I see daily evidence of this civilization lost to itself. I see people desperately lost in their own noises, sadly ignorant of their inner selves, and disturbingly inconsiderate of other people around them. I, therefore, suggest with confidence that the ideal of relaxed noise standards in modern libraries is not standing up well in practice.
While some education experts argue convincingly in favor of noise in the learning process, other experts (with a far greater grasp of intellectual processes) argue in favor of quiet.
An Underlying Flaw
In the following paragraphs, I list five peer-reviewed, scholarly papers written by contemporary education experts whose educational values pose a challenge to the values guiding today’s librarians. Beneath each paper’s citation, I list my interpretations of the authors’ main points.
Angelo Caranfa (2004). Silence As The Foundation Of Learning. EDUCATIONAL THEORY 54 (2):211-230.
The many arguments in educational literature are flawed, because they exclude silence from the studies of teaching on which they are based.
Both self-knowledge and discourse originate in silence.
A world of wonder, contemplation, and listening is revealed through a “language without words.”
We are at risk of becoming mere appendages of noises that our machines make, as well as mere appendages of our own verbal noises that we grow to depend on superficially, no longer defining ourselves through our decisions, our actions, and our judgments.
Defined by our noises, we become incapable of listening and incapable of speaking with any depth.
True learning does not take place when it is connected primarily with noise, profit, and utility.
Education based on silence teaches students to think logically, critically, and with sensitivity for the whole of things.
Angelo Caranfa (2006). Voices Of Silence In Pedagogy: Art, Writing And Self-Encounter. JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION 40 (1):85-103.
The failure of liberal arts education is in its exclusion of feelings and in its exclusion of silence from the processes of reflection and thinking.
Teaching is as much about listening as it is about speaking.
Silence encloses all things, including spoken language.
Feeling, intuition, imagination, and contemplative silence are necessities in learning or in knowing.
Continental philosopher, Maurice Merlot-Ponty argued that language does not give true, genuine knowledge of the visible world, but rather robs the world of its invisible essence. Consequently, any knowledge or language that ignores or de-emphasizes silence is inadequate.
When the flatness of mechanistic thought is allowed to rule, we cannot experience the depth of unfathomable existence.
An “aesthetic of silence” teaches us to listen in ways that integrate the intellectual, moral, and spiritual dimensions of our lives. The greatest shortcoming of educators is their failure to teach that there is more to knowledge than what we can tell.
An “aesthetic of silence” teaches us to tune into others.
Prioritizing the spoken word suppresses the transformative, creative power of personal knowledge gained in contemplative silence.
Ros Ollin (2008). Silent Pedagogy And Rethinking Classroom Practice: Structuring Teaching Through Silence Rather Than Talk. CAMBRIDGE JOURNAL OF EDUCATION 38 (2):265-280.
A negative perception of silence causes a cultural bias favoring talk, which establishes underlying preconceptions about what constitutes participation and interaction.
Formal learning in Western civilizations emphasize the value of talk, and this value remains relatively unchallenged.
Creative, productive interactions can occur where there is no talking.
Educators should make a distinction between activities that genuinely promote learning and activities (used unquestioningly) that promote other agendas.
“Social” learning theory has been confused with “sociable” learning theory.
Michael W. Shelton and Karen Shelton (1992). Silence Please: Silence As A Component Of Interpersonal Communication. Conference paper presented at the Joint Meeting of the Southern States Communication Association and the Central States Communication Association, Lexington Kentucky, April 14-18, 1993.
Silence itself is a form of interpersonal communication where we say something by saying nothing. Two-way conversation, in fact, requires it.
Many original Americans (i.e., most American Indian tribes) honored quiet and discouraged profuse or promiscuous use of words. For these original Americans, the space between words was the realm where people develop character, self-control, courage, patience, and dignity.
Americans who later came to dominate the culture dispensed with the reverence for quiet, placing great emphasis on verbal communication, and often treating silent members of a group as the least influential members.
Michalinos Zembylas & Pavlos Michaelides (2004). The Sound Of Silence In Pedagogy. EDUCATIONAL THEORY 54 (2):193-210.
Ignoring the value of silence in education comes at a cost, to the individual and to society.
Respect for silence in education encourages humility, a sense of wonder, respect for the self, and respect for others.
“The current educational system in the West is rooted in ‘fear of silence,’ which is one reason the understanding of silence in negative terms prevails.” (p. 208)
These five papers document the fact that a mature outlook towards the value of silence in speech exists. The existence of such a mature outlook, however, in the face of its ignorance by modern librarians, suggests that an immature value system is shaping modern libraries. This popular, immature outlook, furthermore, is gaining great support from leaders who place more value on sustainable business than on true education. Under the influences of this immature outlook, people in charge of operating modern libraries measure success according to a lowest-common-denominator satisfaction scale, where profitable operation strategies sacrifice excellent education standards.