I don’t talk much. At least, I don’t talk much in class. No matter how much I’ve wanted to, I’ve never actually been the Hermione of the class – stretching my hand up into the air, unable to contain my desire to share my thoughts. It isn’t that I’ve never had thoughts or questions or opinions about the things discussed in various classes, it’s just that I’ve always felt more comfortable keeping them to myself.
I’m not really sure why that is. I guess I’ve just never thought what I had to say was important. I’m not looking for sympathy or anything, but I want to make sure everyone, everywhere, knows that what they have to say is indeed important, and that everybody deserves to be taken seriously.
So I warn you, dear reader, that this might be an uncomfortably deep post. You might find it disappointing that I have chosen to dwell on this instance even when it occurred so long ago, and think me bitter (I don’t deny it, I’m a bit disappointed, too, but, my disappointment in myself will be saved for another post.) Please keep reading anyway and always remember that each and every person deserves to be treated with respect and dignity, even if you disagree with them, even if you think their problems are trivial.
In my high school AP English class, we read Allegory of a Cave. To my dismay, our instructor told us to draw a picture of what we thought the story meant that we would later explain to the class (I am by no means an artist).
I picked up my colored pencils and got to work. I colored a blue sky, a dark cave, and a ladder of books with titles like The Republic and “Geometry” that lead up to a Greek temple.
When it came time to explain our work, I felt like my heart was plunged into a bucket of ice water. Nearly everyone’s drawing looked exactly the same – a brown circular cave with a space in the center showing people chained up in front of a black background. Some people added a pond or some grass.
The teacher pointed at people around the room who went on to explain what they thought the story was about – “some people in caves” was the general response.
Now, one of the things I love most about literature and English is that there can never be a wrong answer. As long as you can back it up with specific examples in the text, your answer is completely valid (unlike in, oh say, math class, where 2+2=4 and there is no room for debate).
“Now look here, everyone,” the teacher said. “Let’s look closely at Kelsey’s picture.”
My hands were clammy, I was sweating profusely, and I felt ready to throw up. Yes, really, that is how much I despise public speaking. I literally feel sick to my stomach every time I must speak in front of people that I do not have a close relationship with.
As I stammered my theory that the story was about the importance of knowledge and how it helps us ascend from darkness and ignorance, the room became deathly quiet. I apologize for my use of a cliché, but it was the loudest silence I ever heard.
“So is she right?” one boy asked, turning to the teacher.
“Well,” she replied slowly, “No one is ever ‘right’ in an interpretation, but it is the general consensus among scholars that this is the meaning of the story.”
I was done for. The reaction was immediate. They laughed. Everyone laughed at my interpretation. I don’t know if it was because they thought it was ridiculous, foolish, and stupid, or if it was because they felt shown up, but they laughed like nobody’s business.
Either way, that clammed me right up. Like I said, I had never been a huge talker in class, but this was the most painful experience I had in a classroom. Never again, I promised myself, never again.
I’ve never handled getting teased well – at least not by strangers. I can take a joke just fine, really well if I’m comfortable with the person. But being laughed at, with what I perceived to be scorn, by a group of my peers was detrimental to me, at least in this case. Why should I talk at all if everything I say, even that which is, in part, backed by scholars, will be ridiculed? Quite honestly, I would have rather had almost any other embarrassing thing happen to me – I wish I would’ve burped in public, or forgotten to zip up my jeans, or tripped and landed flat on my face in front of that shockingly cute football player – but no. Instead, I was laughed at for my opinion.
Now, in college, when I’m expected to speak up, I find it very difficult. No, my hatred of public speaking didn’t stem entirely from that day in AP English, but that class certainly caused me to shy away from the task even more than I had before.
Indeed, it’s just now that I’m really finding my own voice. I spoke, not entirely unwillingly in class more than once today. This blog has helped me to do that. Michigan State University has helped me to do that. The Residential College in the Arts and Humanities has helped me to do that most of all. (Indeed, when I told my roommate what I was doing up so late – I honestly felt like this is one of the most important things I’ve ever posted on Cows2College – she asked, “Why? Did somebody shoot you down? You have people, honey, you know that. We can take care of it.” She even offered to conjure up a few burly relatives for the task! <3) I really feel that if I learn nothing else in school, it will have been worth it, because I learned that everyone’s opinion matters, always.