Raising Hands

The last time I was at the masjid was about six months ago. I was teaching Islamic studies on Sundays, as I had been doing for quite a few years, until just this year, when my mother insisted that, since I would be graduating university in the spring, I ought to focus entirely on my own schoolwork. I didn’t think my grades would be at all affected, but I caved to her anxiety. (As it turns out, the workload really is twice as heavy.)

That was it. Teaching had been my last real connection to the mosque. As unbearable as it sounds, I had been going for the children. Since I no longer prayed behind barriers or listened to the lectures of obnoxious men, I simply had no reason to be a part of the mosque.

But that is another story.

I’m planning on acquiring a teaching credential from my university. I don’t believe I intend to use it, but I figured it would be good to have one. The process reminds me of incidents that had occurred in my classroom while instructing children and the remarks of adults that had irritated me without my full realization why.

During one of my classes, the children (who were around the age of seven) became particularly noisy with each other trying to answer one of my questions just as another instructor walked in.

“Now,” I said, “I know you’re all excited to share your ideas, but it’s not very nice to talk over each other. Everyone else has interesting things to say just like you do, and it’s polite to recognize that they want them to be heard too. We’ll start with [the person who began first], and then another one of us can come in when she’s finished.”

“Let’s try raising our hands,” interjected the instructor who had come in and was standing by the door.

“Oh, we don’t do that in here,” I interrupted with a flash of irritation. (Yeah yeah, I’m a bad example of what I just lectured. I was kind of annoyed that he was, uh, there.)

“Why?” he asked, as though this were preposterous.

“Because,” I said impatiently, “…that’s not how the world works.” No, you’re preposterous.

Until now, I hadn’t really thought about why. I’ve had teachers who demanded we raise our hands every single time even when it was unnecessary, and I’ve had teachers who couldn’t care less about such a nonsensical thing and approached the discussion as though it were exactly that, a discussion. Even when this other instructor had asked, I just gave him the most obvious answer (“That’s not how the world works,”) instead of coming to the realization that I found making children raise their hands patronizing.

Sometimes my students did raise their hands, if I was in the middle of talking and it didn’t look like I was going to stop, to signal that they had something to say. Usually they just chimed in during natural pauses. The only thing I taught them about that was to not interrupt someone else.

It’s a theory of mine that, when thrown into an environment where raising hands is not expected, people rudely interrupt each other exactly because they’ve grown accustomed to depending on being told when to speak. Or it’s because they’re just sexist assholes. As I’ve seen as a university student, men think nothing of interrupting women in class discussions. In a religious studies class I actually once snapped at another student who was trying to tell me that it’s hypocritical for a Native American woman using a wheelchair that was clearly made from the land of other tribes to ‘complain’ about how her own land was taken. I wasn’t done speaking before he decided to repeat the same ridiculous point that I was addressing in the first place, thinking he could just talk over me. He was a man, of course.

Aside from that point, I find teachers who make students raise their hands when they’re not interrupting anyone just to teach them who’s boss really really obnoxious. It happens especially in the lower grades, where I’ve seen teachers actually ignore students who forget to do this but aren’t causing any trouble. And when students aren’t being rude, there’s no other reason a teacher would make students raise their hands except to teach them Order.

After all, teaching children to obey authority requires less work than teaching them to be polite.

My students organized their talking beautifully after I asked it of them. They didn’t need me to tell them when to speak, and though that instructor had walked into a bit of chaos, the kids really seldom interrupted each other. They just needed a bit of a reminder when they did–and less frequently than adults do.

I don’t always get along with children; there were times, undoubtedly, that we both found each other extremely difficult. (Because I taught second grade, which is when they learn to actually read Arabic, the kids would come in from kindergarten and first grade believing for the most part that they would get to color in the Arabic letters, and they were often unpleasantly surprised when they discovered I intended to teach them to read. The transition is a rude shock. Some fits have been thrown. Sometimes I would be ridiculous.) But there was always reconciliation, I’m a rather passionate person either way, and I find that this is a more natural relationship, and it’s stopped none of them from learning, I mean really learning, rather than just enduring everything I ever say regardless of how they feel or think.

5 thoughts on “Raising Hands

  1. Julian Morrison

    Thank you for being a good teacher.

    I honestly believe that the worship of Order has ruined education. In particular, that children’s learning runs best when it’s aligned with their curiosity, but that curiosity is deliberately suppressed in school as disorderly, because it causes children to rush off at tangents. Of course they were actually rushing off to educate themselves, but education per se seems to take second place to Order.

    I imagine the main reason is not any conspiracy (as some have suggested) but simply that order is easy to measure, and a class being orderly seems to be doing something, while a class being curious seems to be playing, and playing has come to be opposed in people’s minds to education (when it is obviously not, as one readily observes in the young of other species).


  2. That is very interesting. Establishing authority seems to be the mainstay of primary education. I was teaching violin to a class of 10 y/o and when an experienced teacher came into the room which to her must have seemed like chaos she had them all sit down on the floor and be perfectly quiet. She had immediately established herself as the authority, but the students stopped having fun with the violins. I guess what I took away from the experience is that children cannot learn unless they submit to authority. I was not comfortable with that model.


  3. Hum! Never thought to make the connection between real world and classroom viz a viz raising hands.

    I think it depends on context. Sometimes you need Order to get the information across or to work against a time crunch, and then raising hands is necessary. But you need the space to socialize like people do as well. At my job (tour guide) I usually ask kids to raise their hands during the geology lecture part of the tour, but then just field questions naturally when I take them through the cave.

    After all, teaching children to obey authority requires less work than teaching them to be polite.



  4. Flowery Hedgehog

    The thing that stands out for me in this story is the part where another instructor felt free to interfere in your classroom management, right after you had told the kids how the discussion would be managed. In what universe is that okay?

    Parenthetically related, I find something similar happens with parenting. For instance, I do not order my child to say please and thank you. I let her hear me saying please and thank you, to her and to others, and when she says please and thank you I respond appropriately, so she can learn how manners work in the real world. Out in the world, it is not generally acceptable to demand that people say please or thank you, so I don’t see any reason why I should give her the impression that it is. As she grows older, I’ll certainly discuss with her why we use manner words and how our manners affect other people, but right now she is not quite three and I figure that if she uses those words spontaneously some of the time, that is pretty good, and possibly better than if she used them on demand all the time. But apparently this makes me the WORST PARENT EVER AND OMG I AM SPOILING HER.

    I’m not even sure where I’m going with this. Just that yes, it is messed up that children are taught to say and do exactly what they are told, when they are told, and then later are blamed for not knowing how to handle themselves when there is nobody to tell them what to say and do.



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