Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Practicing Silence in the Classroom

While leading the high school students of my Intensive Reading class through what our text calls, “Sources of Wisdom,” a unit which includes short passages from the primary texts of several religions, I was able to spend some time explaining the significance of intentional silence, as I feel it is integral to many faith practices. According to our literature textbook, the guidelines of Zen Buddhism are “meditation and self-discipline.” So on Zen Buddhism Day, after reading the text, I challenged them saying, “If you really want to be radical, create a space for quiet reflection amidst the constant hyper-stimulation of our culture!” After receiving their approval, I initiated two minutes of silence, allowing them to spend their time a) in a form of silent prayer belonging to one of the faith traditions we had studied, or b) slowing down, simply resting in a time of reflection apart from ambitions or goals. I’m not sure I really expected our quiet time to go smoothly; I was certain several students would recognize it as a prime opportunity to act out and steal our attention. Instead, what happened, I think, was a move of the Spirit. Sure, I had to endure a couple of remarks and giggles afterwards about how “strange” or “funny” I looked, sitting in my chair in the front of the room, facing them with my eyes closed, but these comments were also accompanied by: “Hey, I liked that! Can we do this everyday?” and “How about two more minutes?” I think now about those Buddhist monks who committed their lives to prayer and reflection, wondering if they had any idea a bunch of high school brats could find something valuable--if only for a minute or two--in their way of life.

--Daniel Sartin


racotton said...

Thanks for sharing this incident and reflection. Very meaningful. And very encouraging to have you share/come to voice! Thank you for investing and caring.
--Rickey Cotton

living stones said...

Wow. Very powerful. I am going to mention this/quote you in a paper I am writing on integrating spirituality in academics. (Unless you object.) Thank you very much for sharing this.
--Paul Corrigan

Sarah said...

This is amazing and very encouraging. It gives me courage to try something of the sort with my own class (of course on a different level with fourth graders). I recently came across a realistic fiction book for kids, No Talking by Andrew Clements, that, strangely enough, explores some of the mysteries of intentional silence. I was so surprised to find something like that on my students' level that it challenged me to think of how I could use that to introduce them to the idea. Now I'm even more determined to do it. I'll keep you posted on how it goes....

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