I was talking to a friend the other day. He’s a former Peace Corps volunteer who served in Uzbekistan. Like me, his primary assignment was teaching English as a foreign language. Among other things, we discussed the difficulties of teaching English in the former U.S.S.R. and its satellites. One thing we agreed upon and laughed about was how the noise that greeted us every time we opened the door and entered school sent a shiver down our spines and made us cringe. It’s a difficult noise to describe. It’s not the noise of children happily playing in a schoolyard. It’s not the sound of kids shuffling between classes and to and from their lockers. It’s the sound of chaos. And it’s a sound which only emanates from schools where teachers are relatively powerless and students control almost everything. It’s a sound I have wished, for several months now, I wouldn’t hear when I opened the door and entered school.
Yesterday I got my wish, fittingly on my birthday. When I walked through the door and entered school, I heard nothing other than the sound of water trickling from a faux waterfall. The school seemed deserted. There was none of the typical chaos – no screaming teachers barely audible over the cacophony of students’ voices, no fights to break up, no students to corral and shepherd to class. I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday present.
But school was quiet for a reason. Over the weekend, a group of former students, in their late teens and early twenties, had been in a car accident. The driver was drunk. He lost control of the car and rolled it several times. Kids died. One of the kids was the older brother of a current student. All of the kids had friends at our school.
Today is the memorial service. The school was even quieter. It sucks. I’ll take the sound of chaos any day over the sound of silence.