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The Single Best Method For Class (Or Any Kind of) Participation (Thx SciFi Genius Samuel Delany)

Whenever the great science fiction writer Samuel R. Delany teaches or gives a talk, he asks questions and has one requirement:  everyone has to raise a hand.  Everyone.  Whether one knows the answer, doesn’t know, or doesn’t understand the question, he insists that every hand go up and he calls someone at random.  They can then either offer an answer, articulate something about the question they don’t understand, or say they don’t know the answer and that they want to hear what Person X has to say about it.

In any of those cases, not knowing, not answering, is an act of participation, of being acknowledged, of being heard, of being seen, of not being denied.    Mr. Delany notes that every time one skulks behind indifference, one trains oneself not to know, not to be, not to be seen; one trains oneself into believing that not knowing the answer means you do not have a right to be heard.

Today Futures Initiative Fellow Danica Savonic shared a video of the great science fiction writer being interviewed and breaking down and weeping as he described the self-violence of hiding behind one’s not knowing.   It is an incredibly powerful moment that turns education and teaching inside out, in the way Samuel Delany so often does.

Like Think-Pair-Share,  the All-Hands-Raised self-knowingness turns the power dynamics of the Industrial Age classroom inside out, beautifully, eloquently, poetically.  It takes a science fiction writer, perhaps, to help us make our habits  and our institutionalized habitude visible to ourselves.

Watch this video.  Think about what it would do in any situation to demand that ALL hands go up, even those who do not know, even those who do not understand.  Perhaps not just in answering questions but also in asking them.  The physiology of the activity–raising one’s hand–is itself literally uplifting….pulse, breath, all that.   The psychology of the activity is about alertness, attending to, and being attended to.

Thank you, Mr. Delany, for acknowledging how much these small exercises in “education”- are often bad habits, reinforcing those privileged to know from those who feel they have no right to know.


Here’s the video.  Pass it on.   Try it.  Let us hear how it goes.  “The Polymath,” by Orlando Echeverri:      



Photo credit: IlPisano, Creative Commons share alike,

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