456. “You Don’t Have to Talk”

When I was in junior high school, a friend whose thinking I trusted heard me during one of the many marathon talking sessions I had back then (I’ve cut back somewhat since then), and said to me, “Bob, you don’t have to talk.” I was taken aback by his comment. While the statement was literally true, and while the talking I was doing at the time he made the comment was not full of important substance, it was the wrong thing to say to me at the time. From my point of view, I did have to talk (as I now have to write); there was an emptiness inside
me, and talking seemed as if it might have filled some of it. My feelings were hurt.
To some teachers, “talk” is a bad word. Many of these teachers actually tend to talk a lot, but they don’t want children in their classes to follow their example. I used to find it hard to be a pupil in the classes of teachers like these – especially if the teachers spoke in ways that were hard to listen to. And now, as a volunteer, it’s hard for me to see children suffering under the same kind of imposed gag rule that I used to have to put up with. And it’s hard for me to see them have to spend so much time listening. If these teachers think talking is so bad, why do they do it so much?
I do work with some teachers who encourage children to talk. In these teachers’ classes, “talking” is not as synonymous with “interrupting” as it is in other classes, and in general, it isn’t such a bad word. I like those teachers. They help prepare children to live in the world they’re more likely to actually live in; talking is a pretty useful skill in many occupations, in courtship, and in many other real-life situations and activities. School is supposed to prepare people for the lives they’ll lead outside school, and after they leave school, they’re probably going to spend some time talking.
I’m not saying silence is never golden. There are good reasons not to talk all the time. It’s a good idea to make sure you either have something worth saying or are in a situation where that doesn’t matter. And maybe other people have things to say. It’s only fair to let them have their chances to be heard. It’s usually harder to listen and think if you’re talking. And children often have to learn how and when to be silent.
But so do adults. None of us is perfect at keeping quiet at the right times. We all interrupt, put our feet in our mouths, say things we haven’t thought through, and some of us even talk just to hear our own voices. And you’re hearing this from someone who does all of the above. I love to talk. Many of us adults do. But let’s give children more chances.

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