The Room of the Silenced

Dear NME Family

We did it! We are online!!

Welcome to our second NME blog on our brand new website – it is slowly but meaningfully coming together. Thank you to Jerry Y. for posting an excellent video blog on the first day of the year. He has set us off to a great blazing start. The No More Exclusions movement has arrived!

Each week we will post some content on here (video, text, podcasts… whatever). We invite contributions from other bloggers who care as much as we do about the scandal of rising school exclusions, the race-disparity and the overall growing inequalities inbuilt into the system. NME will always privilege the educationally ‘othered’. It is time we hear the voices that are being silenced – children, young people, families, carers – those who are on the margins by design.

This blog is a case in point. This the blog of an anonymous teacher, Miss J…

“This week I went back on my word: I returned to mainstream education, knowing how much it damaged my physical and mental health in the first eight years of my career. Yes… This week I went back to teach in a mainstream school and I can hardly believe it myself.

“No talking” read the signs on all four walls of what felt like a 5X6 office- come isolation room with no windows, four little tables and chairs (hardly suitable for your average teenager’s height and build), a teacher’s desk and three dusty shelves. It’s lesson 3 and I am told I am on duty in the Room of the Silenced.

I arrive wearing my usual open smile and eagerness to get to know every student. I find three children (two boys, one girl) sitting in silence with their back to me and each other, each lost in silent wall-contemplation. I am surprised none of them attempts to turn around. Not even a quick, cheeky glimpse. An orange sheet on the dirty and messy desk briefly depicts the young teens’ offences. “Being racist”,”fighting”, “answering back”. I later learnt that one of the reported reasons for exclusion is “hair is too short” (for the Black student). The observant and conscientious soul that is showing me around is quick to point out: it’s better to keep the written record of the behavioural transgressions vague. “Persistent disruptive behaviour”. Much better.

I found myself in a surreal twilight zone, where the teacher/student relationship is surplus to requirement. It has been replaced by a jailer/inmate permutation. In a slow, incremental fashion over time it has seeped into both the consciousness of the teacher/jailer and the student/inmate. This is confirmed to me when I raise it with other staff later in the day. They look at me seriously puzzled. Like… What is your problem? It’s not worth poking your nose where it doesn’t belong. Just do your job, keep your head down and go home.

And just like that, and in less than 24 hours, I am once again reminded why I cannot teach in the system as it stands, without collusion. Knowing collusion: now… that’s actually even worst.

Silence is a well-established and highly effective tool of domination and social control. Silence can be imposed on even some of the most powerful, educated and discerning, with diabolical consequences, as history tells us. Silence is both performative and discursive. Silence is performative since by occupying the Silenced Room over and over both teacher/jailer and student/inmate come to enact (perform) dual and potentially oppositional identities. Silence is discursive because too many teachers and students absorb uncritical language, utterances, ways, behaviours of silence when it comes to school exclusion – the said, the unsaid, the understood. All of which seems harmless enough. Power is surrendered. Resistance seems futile and too risky.

When we remain silent over school exclusions, we collude with an oppressive system that sees human interactions grounded in love, empathy, understanding, common ground, social justice, inclusion and mutual humanization – as unnecessary irritants at best, dangerous threats at worst.

It’s time to say: No More Exclusions. No More Isolation Booths. No More Silenced Rooms.

Audre Lorde was right. Our silence will not protect us. That goes for ALL of us. So we might as well talk,and make as much noise as we can, until all of the voices from the Silenced Room are silent no more”.




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