Letter in Response: Mandatory participation is integral to university education.

This is a response to a letter The Ubyssey published on June 7. Read it here.

Letter-writer Lorraine Shen, who recently criticized mandatory classroom participation, might be surprised to learn that most of us who regularly participate in class don’t consider ourselves particularly gifted orators.

Vocal students recognize that classroom dialogue is often awkward and uncomfortable, but we engage in it regardless because we have accepted that university is supposed to push us outside of our comfort zone. I’m sure that I’ve said many stupid things in my four years of undergrad, but I hope that in the process I’ve become better at expressing my own ideas and critically responding to others. After all, this is ostensibly the purpose of an arts education.

It’s also worth noting that for those who actually are enthusiastic performers, classroom participation may be the one area in which they excel — the writer feels that being assessed on something that doesn’t come naturally to her is unfair, but fails to consider that some students may feel the same way about written assessments.

The thing about classroom discussion is that the more people who participate, the less awkward the entire enterprise is. Those who keep silent aren’t doing those who speak a favour; they’re only forcing the type of “vapid commentary” that Shen derides. If more people say more concrete and useful things, there’s less reason for others to say anything in order to fill the silence. Silence, however appreciative, does not make for a productive dialogue — thoughtful questions about the ideas that your peers have presented are much more useful.

Additionally, not everyone who speaks up in class is spontaneously composing their thoughts. One of my profs, who recognized the challenges quieter students might face in classroom settings, encouraged us to write down our thoughts before speaking. Writing down notes in advance is a great way of preparing for class, but there are many more. Personally, I’ve also found talking to my friends or even to my parents useful when I need to clarify my own thoughts.

Professors are another useful resource in this respect. They want students to succeed, and are often willing to help you, as long as you ask them. Part of the reason they hold office hours is so that students can approach them with questions about the material, and taking advantage of this to develop what you might say in class later can make speaking up much easier. Another benefit of this is that you get to know your professors better — classroom participation isn’t the only way to develop the kind of academic relationships that can result in good reference letters.

Mandatory participation does not “marginalize the silent,” nor is it a sign that UBC is being insufficiently progressive, because being anxious about speaking in class is not an oppressed identity. Inherent identities that people are actually persecuted for can’t be diminished or transcended — classroom anxiety can, as long as you’re willing to work on it.

Madeleine Link is a fourth year religious studies student and contributor to The Ubyssey.