Sunday Morning ~ Speaking Aloud
Mau okweza ndawamva, a munsi ndi nkhondo. ~ The words which were spoken aloud I did hear, but the words spoken softly cause the war.
~ Chewa proverb
February 20, 2022
I just finished teaching a course for the local senior college, a wonderful resource where people can share their expertise with community members over fifty-five. There is no college credit but there is a rich selection of topics and lots of people take advantage of it. I probably wouldn’t have thought to solicit a spot on the roster for this demographic but was asked to teach it by someone on the board who’d heard I’d taught the same subject at the College of the Atlantic last spring. I thought about what it would be like to teach the history of women’s health care to a generation who remember husbands barred from maternity wards? They lived the progression from silent, obedient patient to informed participant and were part of the women’s movement. I agreed to do it, eager for a platform to raise awareness and hoping it will lead to improvement in our system. Anything to help. We’ve got a long way to go. And I had the course pretty much organized and could teach it remotely so the Utah trip wasn’t an issue.
It was more difficult than I thought it would be. I found I couldn’t use the same structure as I did for college students. This group of seniors weren’t doing this for credit, weren’t interested in turning in assignments, and I felt more unsure of myself. I’ve always had college students do class presentations, my rationale being you learn things differently when you must pass the information on to others. I think it’s a valuable learning experience. But that amount of involvement and work is more than some seniors want to sign up for, I discovered. But spoon feeding information over six weeks is so boring. I decided to keep one aspect of class presentation however, and asked the students to write an essay each week about the readings and relate it to their own lives. This would be read aloud at the beginning of each class and be a jumping off point for discussion. I wanted to hear memories of what health care was like for them as younger women; how they fared in childbirth; how they were treated and how it made them feel. I wanted women’s stories to weave a communal tapestry and see where that led. I stressed how women’s history has always been told through the male voice and women need to practice writing their stories. They need to practice sharing those stories. We need to practice listening to them. So I kept this part of the course intact, and explained it all at the first class. This exercise was much harder for this group than it was for the college-aged kids. I could see the difference in a generation of women who internalized the lesson their words were not important. It flowed rather seamlessly for college kids and I was in awe of the intensity pouring out of them. Poetic, poignant, raw, and pertinent. It was always a launching off for discussion and I’d scribble frantically to jot down insights I hadn’t thought of. It was rich.
Sixty, seventy, eighty years of oppression makes a big difference. The seniors’ readings often started out with, “I really didn’t have anything to say” or “This is just a jumble of thoughts, nothing very good.” These insecurities always stabbed my heart and I’d respond: “No judgement! Everything everyone says is important and we want to hear it.”. I wondered what lives would have been if someone had valued their voice in grammar school.
I used a different version of this exercise with students in Malawi. We’d start off each class with a writing exercise about the topic we were about to discuss. I wanted them to practice writing and telling their story. The hour we spent listening to these stories was my favorite hour of the class. They lost themselves in the retelling; they had a quiet attentive audience, and no judgement. Their stories, told aloud, in their own voices, were heard. I imagine what the world could be like if everyone had that opportunity.
Love to all,