If A Tree Falls: A Critique of Silence

I wrote this poem as a general critique of urban school policies that mandate silence in spaces where silence is not necessarily warranted, especially in communities of color that are overwhelmingly served by white teachers. While the critique focuses on literal silence, it is also reflective of the “silence” promoted and valued by punitive practices in the spaces our children of color occupy.

 

Fading beams of dusk’s dusty sunlight

Streaming through early September’s half-baked leaves

Painted blotches of my half-shadowed

Nine year-old

White skin

 

Amidst the trees

My favorite thought

Suspended between inhalations of the tangerine-infused air:

If a tree falls in the woods

And no one is there to hear it

Does it make a sound?

 

There are first graders in Chicago

Losing time at recess

For speaking in the halls

 

Drinking in the message

From the cup that reads:

In public spaces,

Your voices

Your noise

 

Is not wanted

 

In public spaces

Black and brown voices

Permeate shared breathed air

 

Posing immediate threat to

Desperate clutches of

Centuries-old power

 

Embodied in the fear

Painted on white teachers’ faces

When they are in front of

Others

In power

 

There is a time and place for silence

Like immediately following

The freshly cracked spine

Of a new book

Or in the space between songs

Of your favorite record

 

We value student voice, we say

Hoping no one reads

Fine print underneath

That states

“Under our terms.”

 

Making sacred its use in the private space

Encapsulated in a classroom’s four walls

Where its contents

Its noise

Is controlled

 

We value student voice, we say

But denounce it in the public space

When its reach

Knows no walls

 

We mistake

Silence for

Listening

Silence for

Agreement

Silence for

Respect

 

But when we teach

This mandated silence

Required acquiescence

We teach

 

This absence of noise

This absence of voice

This absence of self

Is what is required

 

Of you.

 

What empires do we build of silence?

Of speak when spoken to

Of do not disturb

Of your voice

That noise

Disturbs

 

The bricks of the empires we build of silence

Are not stacked higher over time

But built stronger

They are maintained

They are soundproof.

 

If a tree falls in the woods

And there is no one there who chooses to listen to it

Does it make a sound?

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One response to “If A Tree Falls: A Critique of Silence

  1. Dear Sarah, Absolutely beautiful observation. I hope this is not widespread urban school policy – – horrible loss if it is. Love you, Grandma

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