570. Getting Away with Chatting

When there’s an assembly or other large group gathering in school, children are usually supposed to sit quietly and listen. What they’re supposed to listen to may or may not be fascinating. It may even be quite difficult to listen to. Children often have things they want to say to each other, or just want to talk, whether or not they have important things to say. But because of either respect for authority or fear of punishment, most children eventually quiet down. Some may speak quietly without moving their lips too much. Some may have other ways to communicate – passing notes or using faces, hands, or body language. And maybe they get away with it.
I recently focussed on a nearly fool-proof way to get away with it: grow up. If you grow up, your chances of getting away with chatting during an assembly are pretty good. That chatting is still just as rude; adults who talk to each other during assemblies are not showing the speaker, singer, or instrumentalist the kind
of respect they’ve probably instructed children to show. But you probably won’t see anyone admonish an adult, or send him or her to the principal’s office. Adults get away with this kind of misbehavior scot-free.
I’m referring mostly to parents and teachers. Like children, they often want to talk with each other more than they can during a regular school day. Some hardly ever get to see each other, and an assembly gives them a chance to catch up. I’ve been to many assemblies at which adults, when not warning and punishing children for talking to each other, talk to each other shamelessly.
When I was a child, I talked a lot. I didn’t get in trouble much; like many children, I knew where and when talking was allowed, and where and when it didn’t matter so much whether it was allowed. But some other kids didn’t have the system figured out as well, and they got admonished and/or punished. I felt sorry for them, but was happy not to be one of them.
Then I grew up. I still loved to talk, and still did so a lot. Once in a while, there would be another adult who gave me the feeling that I shouldn’t be talking, and I usually stopped, either out of habit (perhaps forgetting that I’d been liberated from childhood) or because I realized that the other adult had a point. And sometimes – probably less often – I tried to get other adults to stop chatting. If children weren’t supposed to talk to each other, it didn’t seem fair for adults to do it.
And that’s the way I think now. I hardly ever talk at inappropriate times during assemblies. Sometimes I notice that other adults in the audience are talking to each other. Occasionally, I try to get them to stop, but more often, I just try to set a good example and hope others will follow it. I don’t like the double standard; I think situations in which children in the audience ought to be quiet are situations in which adults should, too.

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