Friday, March 28, 2008

In Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, Fanny Price gets one of her greatest pleasures from simply listening quietly to other people. This is due, in part, to her natural shyness, but it is also caused by her honest interest in what others have to say. She enjoys listening. She carefully takes in what she hears, analyzes it, and compares the statements of different people. She also performs a wonderful service to others by letting them know that she is listening, that she does care about what they are saying, that she is not just waiting for her chance to talk. Reading about her quiet, attentive, and receptive approach to conversation has led me to think about some of my students – the reserved ones who rarely talk in class. Teachers generally feel that this is a weakness in a student, but, after getting to know Fanny Price, I’m not so sure. What is weak about being a conscientious listener? May it not be that some of my quietest students are also the best listeners? When they are quiet for nearly an entire discussion, perhaps they are taking in what everyone is saying, and thoughtfully learning from it. Perhaps, like Fanny, being silently open to what is being said is their best way to learn. Of course there are some students who are quiet because they are not interested or haven’t done their homework, but they could be in the minority. Most of the silent ones might be Fanny Prices – just trying their best to take in what the world is trying to teach them.

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