Other than giant lecture halls, most classes absolutely need students to participate in discussions in order to work. It’s how you ensure that students are actually engaging with the material, as opposed to just picking up five or six talking points for their next quiz or essay.

However, there’s a difference between engaging with the material and engaging with your own ego.

I don’t fully understand people who can say whatever they want in front of a bunch of near-strangers without worrying about embarrassing themselves, least of all when those people have absolutely nothing to gain by doing so. Maybe I’m a little bit jealous. It must be nice to live in that world.

But it’s also annoying. It’s a testament to your own self-interest that you’re not even listening to other people’s points, just talking for as long as it takes for you to convince yourself that you’re making a contribution.

I’m not saying that people who do this never have a point. It’s just that when they do, they talk over people or mock others’ genuine curiosity. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve paused a discussion with a classmate to flip through my textbook for an answer, only for them to pipe up and deign to impart the wisdom they gleaned from reading the exact same book. It’s a way of positioning themselves at the top of a petty, numbers-based hierarchy: number of unhelpful rambling comments per class x your GPA = your social status.

The worst is when these people take the opportunity to announce some barely-related trivia to the class, without any real point to make, just to ensure that everyone knows they’re the best. 

I get that different people have different types of knowledge, and if you have some extra information that the rest of us don’t, good on you. If you happen to have some specialized knowledge on the subject that you think could contribute positively to the discussion, or someone else has asked you for help, by all means, share away.

But usually, that’s not what’s happening here. What’s happening is that the person in question wants to use their knowledge on the subject in order to win some race I definitely didn’t choose to enter. Congratulations on being too smart for this class, but those of us who definitely aren’t don’t need you taking up class time just to make us feel inadequate.

I’ve yet to be in a class where I was annoyed by someone asking too many questions. That’s a sign of humility and actual willingness to learn. It’s always an abundance of comments that bothers me, or a classmate’s rephrasing the teacher’s words in just the wrong way.

It takes energy to support someone’s entire self-image, and last I checked, I signed up for a class, not to be your cheerleader. Rein in your desire to say as much as possible in the fifty minutes before class ends. One well-thought out comment, or even just respectful silence, contributes so much more than an onslaught of opinions.



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