I’m not shy about participating in class. I’m eager to raise my hand and ask any question that may come to mind during my lecture and discussion sections.
But too often other students in the classroom are quick to roll their eyes or let out a loud sigh when one of their classmates asks a question they think is common knowledge. When it has happened to me, I have sunk into my chair filled with a hot sense of embarrassment and no longer as willing to participate in the discussion.
But if students are not able to explore and ask genuine questions about the topics that they are learning in class without the fear of being judged, the quality of education students receive will suffer because academic curiosity and class discussion are stifled. Every classroom should be a place of uninhibited exploration, especially when students are making active attempts to understand such complex and sometimes awkward topics.
Don’t get me wrong. The courses I have taken have been great. But when classmates blindly assume each student is already acutely informed on every single topic covered in class, benefits like open discussion, class participation and deep understanding of the material are lost. Students shouldn’t feel ashamed for trying to learn more, because that is exactly what a classroom is for.
Beyond being completely inappropriate for a classroom setting, these scoffs, demeaning laughs and even under-the-breath comments invalidate the students that are targeted and hurt other students who may not ask future questions for fear of being judged. Students will stop asking questions regarding clarification or additional information if they think their classmates will perceive them differently for it.
While students may ask well-intentioned questions aiming to gain better understanding or detail, the phrasing of questions can sometimes come out as unclear and awkward. But their poor delivery is often the result of not being exposed to the topic before, and that isn’t a bad thing. In a community like GW that claims to value a student body comprised of diverse world experiences, it is counterproductive to shame students who haven’t been exposed to the same information. After all, learning is the entire point of attending class.
We all come from different backgrounds, and it is unfair for students to assume that we all have been caught up on the same issues discussed in class. In fact, it goes against the very basis of higher education by invalidating another student’s educational experience or their desire to learn.
The apprehension that follows these demoralizing comments hurts students’ confidence and discourages them from participating in class in the future. Demeaning comments make students question themselves and wonder whether they should already know what their classmates believe to be common knowledge.
In addition to belittling students, these comments hurt discussion. Students should be willing to educate people who want to learn more about an issue, not tear them down. When someone is unfamiliar with an issue, students should treat that moment as a learning opportunity to educate their classmate.
It can be scary to raise your hand in a room full of more than 100 students. It is even worse if your questions are not well received and result in 100 sets of eyes darting toward you because they think you should have known the answer before you opened your mouth. But we are all at GW to learn, so we shouldn’t turn our classrooms into places where students are ashamed to ask what is on their mind in order to leave the room a little wiser.
Michael McMahon, a freshman, is an opinions writer.
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