The issue of students’ unwillingness to speak out is an interesting one, and one that I’m personally familiar with. You mentioned students of yours that remain silent even though they have an answer – maybe not the exact answer, but a plausible one – in their head. I’m undoubtedly one of those students. The body language is immediately recognizable. If I’m wary of the answer, my eyes shoot to the floor, I slide down into my seat, and I pretend to write something. If I know the answer for sure, I hold eye contact with the professor and wait to be called on. These maneuvers are gut reactions that are entirely driven by feeling.
I’m sure you noticed that even when I know the answer, I don’t volunteer to answer it. I wait for the professor to choose me, to let me know that he’s confident in my imminent answer.
I used to label my resistance to speaking in class as shyness, as I was both shy in and out of the classroom. However, even when I developed more confidence and charisma in my private life, I noticed that I was still just as reluctant to respond to a question in school – even if I was 100% sure that I had the right answer. This topic has floated around my mind since my high school years, and, as you can see, I still think on it often. While I had the self-awareness to identify my weakness in classroom communication, I was also able to see where my strength resided – in writing.
Where there was a timidness to my intellect while I was seated squarely in front of my peers, I knew nothing but confidence when I was seated alone in front of my computer screen. I think confidence is one of two key words in this whole dilemma; the other being fear. While I can’t hope to speak for all students across the United States, my reasoning to follow is what compels me be inactive in an academic environment. It’s entirely possible that some of the students that refuse to speak simply don’t care about the content of the class, only about their eventual reward for suffering through it.
Nevertheless, some students, myself included, are afraid of sounding unintelligent in front of their friends and their professor. Take me for example. I was enrolled in one of your classes this past semester – Spring 2017, as of this writing. Not only did I have the highest scores in the class, but I was also the tutor. So, I had no reason to believe that even if I did get the answer wrong, that anyone else would have been able to judge me or “show me up.” Even with all that knowledge, I still didn’t participate most of the time. This is because I didn’t want to be silently ridiculed by my classmates for a wrong answer. One could possibly call this an irrational fear, and I might have to agree.
Now, onto your question of “how can you have a republic when the public won’t speak in public?” I find that to be an intriguing question, because I don’t think we have a problem with the public not speaking, we have a problem with people not speaking.
It’s clear from recent events that the public is still very comfortable with speaking. Whether it’s “Lock her up!” or “Impeach! Impeach! Impeach!”, the public is still voicing its opinion. Not to mention, public opinion isn’t always voiced verbally, but can also be voiced silently by way of voting. If someone can advocate for their beliefs by certain means, whether it be in the voting booth or in a mass of people, they will do so. I attribute this to the anonymity that voting and large protests grant to those who are participating. These methods take away the fear of being singled out and personally ridiculed – silently or loudly – just as writing, instead of speaking, takes away my fear.
However, I will agree that we have an issue with people speaking in public. Maybe not people in general, but perhaps the right people. If you were to ask almost anyone – save Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton – if they were happy with the candidates of the 2016 election, they would say no. During the election, I heard many of my peers question how – out of 300 million people – America was saddled with the choices of Clinton and Trump. I say that they were the result of a long history of the right people not standing up and speaking out, because of fear. You brought up in your last post that politics is viewed as a “dirty business of unclean lies,” and you’re right. People know that if they stand up and falter then they will be picked apart and buried by the Roger Stones of the world, so they choose the comfort of inaction.
Before you said that you “don’t care” if someone can “speak prodigiously in private.” However, I think one’s ability to speak intelligently in private is telling of promise and possibility when it comes to public speech. It’s these very possibilities that are woefully going to waste when fear inhibits people from speaking out in a classroom or in a political forum. After all, if you were never privy to my private writings and conversations then I wouldn’t be writing this entry now.