Is forced participation ruining our classes?

Ella Jacobs

Flora Nguyen

Management Sophomore

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When I look through a class syllabus, the first thing I check is how much participation is worth in the class. If it involves a lot of participation, I am least likely to take the class. I suffer from social anxiety, which interferes with my daily life and affects even the smallest interactions. I spend more time stressing about what I need to say than actually listening in on the conversation, which does not help me in the long run. There are times when I do know the answers to a question, but do not raise my hand because my anxiety is so bad. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 15 million people have social anxiety disorder in America.

Jessica Lahey, in her article “When Success Leads to Failure” written in the Atlantic, says forced participation is fair and necessary for the classroom. She suggested that introverted students need to be coerced through participation grades in order to be successful in today’s world. As an introverted student, I disagree with Lahey’s statement. Just because we do not speak up in class does not mean that we lack interpersonal communication. I communicate better through writing; I can explain things better if I had time to reflect and write it down. For the most part, if I don’t understand something, I do raise my hand if I’m comfortable. Yet, the key point here is that “if” I am comfortable, I do it on my own will.

The learning environment should be tailored to the student. The best way for a student to flourish is to feel comfortable and confident. Forcing someone to do something they aren’t comfortable with in any situation is looked down upon, so why are we turning the other cheek when it comes to the classroom?

When participation points are important to the class, I have to mentally prepare myself and take a few breaths before I can physically raise my hand. There are also second language speakers in classrooms that are not confident in their speaking capabilities. On the other hand, some professors are gearing away from the traditional method of participation. For instance, my economics professor uses an app called “TopHat” to gather participation points. TopHat allows professors to insert pop-up questions throughout the lectures to improve participation points. Even though there are some flaws in the app, it gives me a better chance to participate in class without having to speak up.

Valerie Strauss, from the Washington Post, agrees that introverts shouldn’t be forced to talk in class. In her book “Rethinking Classroom Participation: Listening to Silent Voices,” she raises the idea to redefine what we mean by “classroom participation.” Strauss poses the idea that silence can be a form of participation. I like to write notes down when I learn something important and would consider that as participating in the class. Lowering grades should not be a consequence for not “participating” correctly. Emily Klein, a professor at Montclair State University, theorizes in her article, “Participation Penalizes Quiet Learners,” that including participation into a grade penalizes the quiet student who might be listening and creating space for thinking and reflection.

A classroom participation grade generally rewards students who are active communicators. Therefore, teachers interpret introversion as disinterest or silence as confusion about the content. Students may not earn grades that truly reflect their skills or comprehension of the material. What part of the grade reflects actual knowledge or skill, and what part is participation or effort?

We should focus more on making room for all learning types to flourish instead of forcing someone to follow another method in the classroom. It may be inconvenient to accommodate different personality or learning types, but it is worth it when the classroom becomes a safe atmosphere for everyone.