This is a rather old post that I’ve archived for a while.
Who here has ever been in school? It’s a pretty simple question. Now who here has ever asked a question in class?
The answer would most likely be yes, but there are those who prefer to listen… or at least that is their excuse. Truth be told, some people are just shy. That’s fine. However, there are those who feel embarrassed. They don’t want to seem stupid in front of their classmates.
That’s actually pretty valid. There are some questions that just sound stupid when you hear them. Other questions seem profoundly important. It’s very subjective, based solely on one’s understanding of the material being taught.
However, who is the one the judge? Who does the student fear judging them? Their classmates? Possibly, actually this is most likely the truth. People have a tendency to judge others based on their outward actions, such as speech. If you ask a “stupid” question, then you are probably stupid.
What about the teacher? Do we fear their judgement? At the end of the day, we aren’t asking our fellow students, we are asking the teacher. So when you open your mouth to present a query, it’s just the two of you participating in that moment. Do we fear their judgement in that moment? If so, why?
I would like to posit that it is due partly to stature. One’s line of sight has a direct relation to how they feel in terms of their level of relative power, or status. You fear what you have no power over, and thus you hesitate. This leads to a lack of questions.
Think about it. When you go to class, where do you sit? In your desk. (I’m referring to either high school or elementary school, in university the system is similar, although you don’t have a defined seat). Either way, it doesn’t really matter, what matters is that you do, in fact, sit. You are lowering your eye level from the standing position. What about the teacher? They stay standing (usually), presumably because it’s easier to project their voice, and it probably is. However, this now affects how any future interactions will take place. The advantage of a teacher standing while a student sits is related to one-way communication. They talk, we listen. It isn’t meant to work the other way around, but it should.
Another reason for this is the sense of height and it’s relation to power. Looking down on someone implies that you have power over them, while looking up at someone implies that you have submitted to them. Being at a physically higher level implies that you are at a higher level in general, and the same is true for being at physically lower level.
And so with this, we can say that the system of the classroom interaction between student and teacher places the student in a position of lower power and thus discourages them from speaking up. How can we test this? It’s actually really hard.
One option would be to just get taller chairs. Actually, any option where the students and teachers are at relatively the same eye level could potentially fix this problem. However, the issue of whether students will ask questions in the classroom remains due mainly to the fact that other students will still judge them. I think that despite this posit, judgement by their peers is still the bigger issue. Think about it. You can still talk to your teacher after school, or in private. You are able to do that because your fellow students aren’t there.
In conclusion, I believe that there is definitely a link between the eye level and the tendency to ask questions, but there are too many other important variables to assume that fixing the height problem will help students a great deal. That being said, it’s a thought.
Thanks for reading and have a great day!