Silencing Collaboration

By Steven Rome

The school is waging a war on laughter.

Students go to the library to get work done, but to many of us, the opportunity to socialize with friends is just as—if not more— important. Yet any time the volume level approaches anything more than a whisper, the library faculty shush the guilty parties incessantly.

Individuals are not to blame—the faculty simply enforce the rules they are told to enforce; we must, instead, reform the system. Currently, it is unacceptable

for students to stand and help their friends with a homework question. We’ve all been in the position of the “sixth wheel”—the unlucky fellow who loses the game of musical chairs, as library policy dictates only five students are allowed at a table, even though three chairs (at least) can comfortably fit on each side. As a result, the current library rules squelch collaboration.

What’s so alarming is the fact that the District and administration have spent the last few years aligning themselves with the wellness movement while ignoring the most glaring and easily fixable threat to student wellbeing on a daily basis.

Often times, students from the same class meet in the library to help each other study for tests. Until, of course, they are shushed.

Instead of cracking down on conversation in the library, we should be embracing it. This is the essence of wellness: people prioritizing relationships over material concerns, de-stressing and laughing. We ask each other about our weekends; we share funny moments from the day’s classes; we swap advice and jokes; we talk about our fantasy teams, our families, our lives.

 

Absent from all this is technology. Teens do, in fact, communicate with each other face- to-face. At MHS, many of these interactions occur in the library, the centrally located, largest and most hospitable spot on campus. Shouldn’t we be celebrating the fact that, instead of hunching over our devices and spending all our time on homework in a stiff and silent mausoleum, we actually want to talk to each other?

Perhaps the solution is the Tiger’s Den, MHS’s couch-equipped wellness room where students are encouraged to “Let go of all the rest.” The Den tolerates conversa- tion and promotes a more relaxed atmosphere. However, it faces an uphill—no, I fear impossible— battle to unseat the library as the facility most students choose to go to during their frees. The Den’s physical location is its biggest issue. Located on the first floor of the Science wing, it’s simply inconvenient compared to the library. Moreover, the Den is not open every period of the day, a result of the fact that volunteers supervise the room. It is further constrained by its size—the Den is the size of a regular classroom, and its beanbag chairs and couches can only fit so many.

These concerns, of course, are moot if the Den isn’t open, which it wasn’t until two weeks ago. (The grand-opening was held on Dec. 9 at lunch.) I understand that organizing the space is a long and difficult process, and I commend the efforts of those—both faculty and students—who have worked hard for this noble cause. But the Tiger’s Den isn’t the long-term solution.

 

The library already serves the function of the Den for most students. Outside of playing pingpong (which can only be done by two people at a time), the things people do in the Tiger’s Den are the same most do in the library: Talk, laugh and relax. Yes, many people do work, but they often carry on conversations while they complete their assignments. Often times, students from the same class meet in the library to help each other study for tests.

Until, of course, they are shushed.

The library should embrace a new identity as a student center. The only thing we would need to change would be the rigidly enforced rules on noise. Normal conversation would become acceptable. Socializing, not silence, would become the main, endorsed function. This would allow for more collaboration between students, who would be encouraged (as they should) to share and challenge each other’s ideas. The library classroom could double as a meeting room for clubs, which would benefit from a common space in which to advertise and raise money. Room could easily be made for more tables and chairs. No longer would anyone get kicked out. And we could all, once again, laugh in peace.

 

For the more studious among us who prefer the quiet cubicles in the library, the Tiger’s Den would become a study hall. The cubicles could be brought downstairs, and the school could easily supplement them with some more individual desks.

Just as there are varying levels of noise on different levels of college libraries, the two rooms would serve different crowds. The library aides could have a rotating shift in the Den; I suspect this would be a welcome, peaceful break in an otherwise hectic day. Both spaces would be open all day and available to all.

In our current system, the library is too noisy for people who really want to concentrate, and the shushing is one of the most distracting noises of all. Instead of trying to accomplish the impossible task of making forty or fifty people silent, we should instead allow the ten or so people who are truly bothered by the noise to work in peace somewhere else.

These changes wouldn’t be radical. In fact, the Larchmont Public Library is already implementing them. The library recently announced it would undergo a $2 million renovation project to modify its facilities to respond to changing behaviors of library-goers. A recent Journal News story reported: “Instead of coming to the library to read or work in silence and isolation, Larchmont Public Library Director Laura

Eckley said many people gather in groups, talk on Skype or use the free WiFi for work while being around other people.”

“Libraries have become less of a shush atmosphere,” Eckley was quoted as saying in the article. “There’s a community-centered, social aspect to libraries now.”

In other words, libraries create an environment that promotes wellness.

Yet at MHS, the library creates an environment of frustration and repression. I sympathize with the library staff. It’s no fun to have to deal with obnoxious, unruly kids every day. As a student body, we bear considerable blame: Many of us don’t afford the faculty the respect they deserve. But it’s also no fun to be told you can’t talk with your friends the one time of the day you see them. This problem isn’t the fault of any individuals; the system is to blame.

So let’s do something about it. I challenge Student Council, the Student Faculty Advisory Committee, the administration or anyone else who cares about the welfare of our students to address this issue. Let’s embrace laughter. Let’s follow the example of the Larchmont Public Library. Or, we can continue to pat our school on the back for its supposed commitment to wellness and pretend like nothing is wrong.

It makes me wonder whose wellness the District and administration really care about: the students’, or their own?

 

 

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