17 SES 12, Educational Soundscapes: Sounds and Silences in the History of Education
In parallel to what has been once argued with respect to disability – “Disability is everywhere in history once you begin looking for it, but conspicuously absent in the histories we write” (Baynton, 2001) – one could say that “sounds and silences are ubiquitous in the history of education, but conspicuously absent in the available histories of education”. Indeed, only few educational historians explicitly have turned to the acoustic realm in order to reconstruct the educational past (e.g. Landahl, 2011; Verstraete, 2015). In line with and inspired by the emerging field of Sounds studies the main aim of the symposium Educational soundscapes is to point to and elaborate on the importance of the acoustic dimension in the history of education (Sterne, 2012). In this way the symposium takes up a challenge described by Ian Grosvenor is his essay Back to the future or towards a sensory history of schooling and will add to the existing literature on history of the senses in general (Grosvenor, 2012; e.g. Jütte, 2005).
The starting point for this symposium is that education indeed is something that is packed with sounds and silences and that omitting these educational soundscapes – the term is borrowed from a publication by Sarah Meacham in the journal Mind, Culture and activity (2007) – one overlooks an important avenue by means of which explicit and implicit educational goals are being realised or countered. Whether one now thinks about the upraising of a toddler, the first steps taken by a seven year old child in order to learn how to write, youngsters involved in youth movements, the sound produced by the coffee machine in the teacher’s room of a school, the bell that announced the beginning or the end of a school day, the buzzing sound of a computer room or the shrill sound of a piece of chalk on the blackboard, etc. time and again sound seems omnipresent. Paradoxically speaking the same goes up for those educational spaces where silence has been and still is valued. After a teacher has asked for silence for instance, the classroom gradually becomes filled with the sound of pupils writing on pieces of paper or moving their bodies on a chair. Again many other examples can be added like the increasing attention devoted to exercises by means of which children can learn how to be silent, there is the school library with its obligatory signs of ‘sssshht’ and ‘silence please’ etc.
Time and again scholars have emphasized the complex and inseparable interconnectedness of sound and silence. In reference to Michel Foucault who once said that where there is power there is also freedom this symposium will explore the divergent ways in which educational soundscapes – being constituted of particular constellations of silences and sounds – are involved in the production of and resistance against specific power effects. In this way the self-evident character of sounds as well as silences in educational contexts will be replaced by a more nuanced approach that emphasized the cultural and historical contingency of sounds and silences. Building on the rich literature about the history of sound and silences the symposium also will reflect on the usefulness of the acoustic perspective for thinking about education historiography.
Grosvenor, I (2012). Back to the Future or towards a sensory history of schooling. History of Education 41 (5), 675-687. Meacham, S. (2007). The educational soundscape: participation and perception in Japanese high school English lessons. Mind, Culture, and Activity 14 (3), 196-215. Jütte, R. (2005). A history of the senses: From antiquity to cyberspace. Polity. Sterne, J. (Ed.) (2012). The sound studies reader. London: Routledge. Landahl, J. (2011). The sound of authority: The rise and fall of the silent school. Scandia 1, 1-16 Verstraete, P. & Hoegaerts, J. (2015). Stilte: essays over cultuur, macht en verandering. Brussel: ASP. Douglas, B. (2001). Disability and the Justification of Inequality in American History. In: P. Longmore & L. Umansky (Eds.). The New Disability History: American Perspectives.New York: New York University Press.
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