This is an important message for all teachers and all students at any stage in life. So, this is an important message for everyone.
I have a book of short stories by famed science fiction author, Theodore Sturgeon, simply because his last name is Sturgeon. This is the extent of my science fiction knowledge (and my juvenile approach to leisure reading). However, at a recent conference, I learned of Samuel R. Delany, another legend in the science fiction field. Delany is a prolific author and in my opinion a dead ringer for Santa Claus. He is also a literary critic and a professor, and it is his work as a professor that led me to bug you today.
Cathy Davidson shared the following description of a touching interview with Delany:
Whenever the great science fiction writer Samuel R. Delany teaches or is in a situation talking formally with others, he asks questions and has one requirement: everyone has to raise a hand. Everyone. Whether one knows the answer, doesn’t know, or doesn’t understand the question, he insists that every hand go up and he calls on someone to answer at random. They can then either offer an answer, articulate something about the question they don’t understand, or say they don’t know the answer and that they want to hear what Person X has to say about it. In any case, they represent themselves as present, as a participant, by that boldly raised hand (even if the answer is unknown) that says: I. Am. Here.
In the interview, Mr. Delany weeps as he talks about the deep, self-degrading personal toll of not raising a hand, of being indifferent or ashamed of not knowing, of being in a group and yet willing oneself not to participate (he sees it as a practice of self-erasure). Mr. Delany notes that every time one skulks behind indifference, one trains oneself not to know, not to be, not to be seen; one trains oneself into believing that not knowing the answer means you do not have a right to be heard.
I share this primarily because I work at a law school. Law school is an environment where “being called on” is a constant fear and avoidance is a survival technique. Professor Delany would cry puddles.
It is okay not to know an answer. In life, it is okay not to know an answer.
It is NOT okay to avoid participating in life because you do not know an answer.
Teachers, create an environment where everyone’s voice is both welcomed and heard. Students (i.e., the rest of us), join the conversation.
Mr. Shakespeare was all over it when he had Prince Hamlet identify the question as: To be, or not to be. For things to start to look up, raise your hand and choose “to be.”
The video featuring Delany can be seen HERE.