We No Speak Americano: Don't speak

By Sophie O ' Mahony | 1/31/12 8:09pm


A wee anec­dote from the Uni­ver­sity of Ed­in­burgh: a pupil kept in­ter­rupt­ing the lec­turer with ques­tions, kept pro­vid­ing an­swers that weren’t re­quired, kept of­fer­ing opin­ions that weren’t asked for. After twenty min­utes of this in­ces­sant dis­rup­tion the lec­turer told the pupil that if he dared open his mouth again that term, he would per­son­ally make sure that he was dropped from the course.

Such was the in­spi­ra­tion for No Doubt’s 1996 hit-sin­gle‘Don’t Speak’. Clearly Gwen Ste­fani had had a bad for­eign ex­change ex­pe­ri­ence.

But this is how we do things in the UK. We go to class. We sit down. We shut up. We let the lec­turer do their thing. When they ask at the end if we have any ques­tions (and boy do we have ques­tions: “What on earth were you going on about for the past fifty min­utes?”) no one puts up their hand. If any­one dares raise a manus, they must deal with the fury of twenty rav­en­ous stu­dents who just want to get to lunch.

My fa­ther, the ul­ti­mate Vic­to­rian daddy, be­lieved that his chil­dren should nei­ther be seen nor heard. Con­se­quently he had a stair­case in­stalled for the sole use of his off­spring to sep­a­rate us from the adults, lest we af­fect them with our im­ma­tu­rity.

I’m just kid­ding.

So imag­ine my sur­prise when I walked into class at the be­gin­ning of term, only to be handed a mas­sive label with my name on it in big bold let­ters. What was the pur­pose of this de­vice? Oh, to let the pro­fes­sor know my name when I spoke out in class.

Ha­haha. Hillar­i­ous.

Oh. You weren’t kid­ding.

I watched in in­creas­ing hor­ror as the lec­turer, in­stead of look­ing at a script on a podium, looked di­rectly into the stu­dents’ eyes and dared en­gage us in con­ver­sa­tion, as though what we thought ac­tu­ally mat­tered. I kept my head down.

And then came that awful mo­ment where you scratch your face, and the teacher thinks that you put up your arm. “So­phie? What’s your view on the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion of clas­si­cal chaos with the S-ma­trix in quan­tum field the­ory and con­served CPT?”

I went into panic mode. Here’s why:

  1. Ok, so I didn’t do the read­ing. I watched that ter­ri­ble movie SATC 2 last night. Again.
  2. And I didn’t hear the ques­tion you just asked. I was too busy look­ing at the cute guy across the room. Mmm.
  3. Fi­nally: How the HELL do you know my name?

Oh, that’s right. It’s on my name label. Damn it.

I think my an­swer was some­thing like “Squerble?”

So here’s how I feel about my classes at Dart­mouth: they’re ter­ri­fy­ing. Pet­ri­fy­ing. But bor­ing? Never. I’ve never been more awake in my life. I’ve learnt to speak out in lec­tures now – my heart feels like it’s going to give out every time I do, but it doesn’t beat the feel­ing of sat­is­fac­tion that I get from hav­ing con­tributed to some­thing. And I love being the teacher’s pet.

Some other things I’ve learnt: 1) Ap­par­ently the ‘Dart­mouth Seven’ are areas of great vi­sual beauty in the cam­pus area. If you don’t know where they are, ask Pres­i­dent Kim for a per­sonal tour. 2) If you go to a cafe, hand over your Dart­mouth I.D. and say the let­ters ‘D’, ‘B’, and ‘A’, you get free food.

Sophie O ' Mahony