Silence and Good Intentions

bsampson24's picture


On Thursday I worked with a student on her college essay. She asked me to read it over and provide feedback. After reading the first paragraph and skimming the rest I immediately thought this won’t do. Her story was not compelling enough and did not highlight her agency. In addition to the missing “wow” factor it lacked an inviting introduction and presented no hard-hitting obstacle she overcame that communicated her resiliency and strength. It failed to do what I was told a “winning” essay would do, which was, captivate an audience by telling a story.  In trying to help improve her essay I immediately went to my email and began sifting through my inbox to find samples of college essays given to me during my junior year as well as my own “mission statement” for her to use as a guide. As soon as I opened up that document for her I regretted how I was handling the situation.

 I not only silenced her voice but also devalued her story by presenting alternatives in an attempt to make it more appealing and exciting for outsiders. During the college process I constantly felt pressured to tell a story not completely representative of me but attractive to an audience of admission readers. My college process was controlled by people with a job to complete-ensure I attended a prestigious college. And here I was pushing the same rigid structure and employing stiffing tactics to achieve the same goal, but for what, a chance at her getting into a “good” school? And then what, so I could say I helped a student get into college, a top college at that? Bogus, absolutely bogus.

Freire’s term culture of silence and Lllich’s “To Hell with Good Intentions” resonated even more after my visit because I revisited my reasons for becoming a minor and studying education the first place. In thinking back to why I became an Ed minor I wrote in numerous papers I wanted to empower students and help recognize their agency, not ignore it. I want(ed) to avoid reinforcing and reproducing hegemonic ideologies and using pedagogical practices that did not see value in both roles of the educator and learner.  To continue or get back on that path, I will be less intrusive and ask more questions instead of providing solutions.  And proceed on making her voice more apparent in the story by asking higher-level questions to determine her audience and what enduing understandings people should take away after reading her story.


alesnick's picture

asking questions v providing solutions

In my other course, we are reading The Art of Being a Healing Presence, by Miller and Cutshall. They define healing presence as "the condition of being consciously and compassionately in the present moment with another or others, believing in and affirming their potential for wholeness, wherever they are in life" (p. 12).  They talk about the pressure of our busy world to do something, to be effective, and how unhelpful that can be to being in relationships, even short-term ones, based on awaiting/holding/and sitting with another's capacity for growth, and our own. The book is also sprinkled with quotes, like this one, from Teresa of Avila: "To reach something good, it is helpful to have gone astray, and thus acquire experience" (p.22).  Brittney, your story and reflections are very helpul in this connection.  It is understandable that in this moment with your mentee, you were drawn to the sense of haste, pressure, high stakes, and ends-orientation that characterized your own college-seeking experience.  It is hard to keep all of these pressures at bay and hold with the certainty that the other person is capable, even through struggle, of moving forward in wholeness.  I think you can still draw on your experience and knowledge while at the same time opening space for the student to breathe in new possibilities for self-expression.  Your "mistake" (see our Twitter thread on same) is a vital part of the process.