17 SES 12, Educational Soundscapes: Sounds and Silences in the History of Education
At the heart of the nineteenth century educational soundscape lies an obvious – but rarely discussed – paradox. Whilst ‘modern’ classrooms of the age generally strived for silence (which seems to have been equated with order), the goal of its educational practices was the production of competent ‘citizens’. And the modern citizen was not defined so much by his silence, but rather by his clearly audible voice. Middle-class boys in particular, it seems, were expected to acquire a voice fit for business, the professions or even (political) public speech whilst quietly listening to a teacher. This silence within the educational institution has generally been understood as an element of the type of discipline exerted within these rooms. Much like the modern prison, the classroom was a space where the pupils were constantly under the powerful gaze of an audible ‘master’. Our understanding of these institutes tends to equate the pupil’s visibility with fragility and femininity, and the teacher’s audibility with agency and masculinity. In this paper I want to examine the paradox of the silent classroom and the speaking citizen further. I will therefore focus specifically on those instances where the clear goal of education was vocal sound (i.e. fluent speech, healthy vocalization, civilized pronunciation and song) and look at how silence was mobilized by educators in these instances. I will argue that the silences employed in these educational practices were not (only) tools of order and discipline, but rather means to create an educational and acoustic ‘borderland’ where the leap between childhood and its uncivilized noises on the one hand, and adulthood and its rational speech could be made. (Or, in the case of girls, where the distinction between unacceptable chatter and melodious, soothing vocalization took shape). I will draw upon the interpretations of silence as ‘in between’ signs as it has been developed by semioticians such as Pirjo Kukkonen, Erja Hannula and Matthieu Gilliot to analyze a corpus of sources consisting mainly of French, German and English pedagogical literature focusing on the development of children’s voices. Reframing the place of silence in ‘institutionalized’ education does not take away from the finding that power and discipline were important features of the modern educational soundscape, but it does allow us to delve deeper into the actual practice of that discipline and the specific ways in which it (re)produced and articulated dichotomies of power.
Eero Tarasti, (ed.) Snow, Forest, Silence. The Finnish Tradition of Semiotics, Indiana University Press, 1999. Muriel Saville-Troike and Deborah Tannen (eds.), Perspectives on Silence, Ablex Publishing, 1985. Judith Surkis, Sexing the Citizen. Morality and Masculinity in France, 1870–1920, Cornell University Press, 2006. Catherine Bergeron, Voice Lessons. French Mélodie in the Belle Epoque, Oxford University Press, 2010. Tom Delphe Janiuriek, “Sounding Gender(ed): Vocal Performances in English University Teaching Spaces”, Gender, Place and Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography, 6:2 (1999), 137-153. Ian Grosvernor e.a. (eds.), Silences and Images: The Social History of the Classroom, Peter Lang, 1999. Emil Behnke and Lennox Browne, The Child's voice: its treatment with regard to after development, A.N. Marquis & company, 1885. John Evans, The school music teacher. A guide to teaching singing in schools by tonic sol-fa notation and staff notation, J. Curwen & sons, 1903.
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