What message lies in the sounds of silence as conflict grows?

Loved my English class again this afternoon.  Students are still going at it passionately as they take sides in the growing disputes between the people of Ember and Sparks.  The characters feel all the more real to me as my students adamantly take their sides or lambast other characters for outrageous behavior.  Today, I even made a short video clip of them arguing with each other about how the people of Ember should respond to some harassment they were experiencing as the people of Sparks, as the locals grow weary of them and trust erodes.

“First of all, I don’t think this can end peacefully!  They violate our rights, they don’t want to feed us anymore.  They are trying to make us leave in winter.  Is there really any change they would listen if we try to talk to them about all the ways people have abused us? “ 

“They could have told us to get out.  Some of them are doing something mean, but still they are sharing their food and clothes, even if it is not enough.  They were leading normal lives and then we came.”

“They are using us to fix up their city.  They feel spite for us.  They hate us.  They wrote bad graffiti on our walls.”  Torren is guilty and Doon is being blamed and they don’t care about the truth.”  We need to just go to war with them.

“You have to give them a chance to figure it out.  War will not solve anything.”  “You cannot judge everyone because something bad happened. We need to work with them and talk to them.”

“The people of Sparks will think we are lying.  I am not saying we need to kill them, we could just steal some food and go make our own village.”

“What will we use to start that village?” 

“Ms. Dykema, can I switch sides?”

“They didn’t give us a chance to show that we are telling the truth.

“They did give you a chance.  They have not kicked you out of the village yet.”

“Wait,” Mulu said, “I want to change sides. “   I replied, “Go ahead and move to the other group.  Why do you want to change?”

“I think we should just go back to Ember.  I don’t want war.”

“No there is no sun and we are not going back to living underground in a city that does not work.  They just plan to use us and they don’t know what we have been through.  There is no turning around now. ”

“No, they are training us to make our own city.”

“So, ultimately this comes to a question of trust,” I add.  “Some of you trust that even though some things are not going well in Sparks, you trust that the majority of people want you to do well and are still willing to help you even if you are getting some abuse.  Others do not trust the people of Sparks, and think you should just take what you want, and confront them directly.”

“We will keep reading to see what happens.”  In the following chapter, Maddy, Caspar, and Lina discover a totally decimated city, that was destroyed by war.  Maddy explains the concept of revenge to Lina.  What can we learn from the ruined city?  It is introduced at a critical time in the plot. 

Meanwhile in eighth grade world geography, we are studying major world conflicts.  We are looking at Taiwan Vs. China, the wars in Rwanda and Sudan, and the current violence in Kashmir.  Isn’t it interesting how much art mirrors life?  Fiction often seems as real and the evening newscast.   As Maddy says “The A people and the B people get in an argument. The A people say or do something that hurts the B people. The B people strike back to get even.  But that just makes the A people angry all over again.  They say, “You hurt us, so now we are going to hurt you.” It keeps on like that.  One bad thing leads to a worse thing, on and on.”  “Can’t it be stopped?” said Lina.  “Maybe at the beginning….If someone sees what is happening and is brave enough to reverse the direction.”

And so, the class leaves still hyped up and arguing with each other about what should happen next, but now they are a bit more somber, and cognizant of consequences.  I love that they are starting to make the connections beyond this book to conflict in general.  What can and cannot be solved?  How does one go about breaking the chain, reversing the direction, affecting meaningful change?  Good questions for middle schoolers, and maybe for all of us.  What are the consequences when we let our emotions rule and are drawn into the A/B mounting confrontation referred to above?

In my little world, where can I help reverse the direction when things are going the wrong way and will I be brave enough and engaged enough to do so when I should?  This is something we only know when the situation presents itself….as it does in Sparks.

The next day…..

Can we start reading right away?  Music to a reading teacher’s ears as the people of Ember, Sparks, and my class all sort out their mixed allegiances, fears, and empathy as we begin the next chapter “Attack and Counterattack”

In the ruined city that the three roamers found, perhaps this song could have been written about the people there…   What do you think the unheard voices were trying to say?   What message lies in the city and the sounds of silence?  (Used as a warn up, before we read the next chapter”  What connections do you see between the text and this song?

To play this song, go to this address:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jfx_fjNSmyE

Simon and Garfunkel perform the song in a simple black and white clip. The song was written by Paul Simon.

The Sound of Silence

Simon & Garfunkel

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
No one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

“Fools” said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming

And the sign said, “The words of the prophets
Are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls”
And whispered in the sounds of silence

After listening to the song, students see the references to darkness as being about the people of Ember living underground before, so yes, darkness was their friend.  Silence like a cancer grows was interpreted as a metaphor for the unaddressed anger building on both sides. “But my words like silent raindrops fell,’ reminded students of Doon’s  words falling on deaf ears as he tried to explain that he was innocent of the many things he was being accused of having done.

In class today we read, addressed discussion questions in small groups and made connections.  At the end of class, one of the students said, “Can we sing that song?” So, they picked up their lyrics and we ended class singing “The sound of silence”  and then it was silent….

2 thoughts on “What message lies in the sounds of silence as conflict grows?

  1. Lots of power in these class discussions, as evidenced in their words and cognitive shifts (“can I switch sides?”). Excellent choice of song as a metaphor – so haunting and rich with meaning to be explored in connection with the book, and beyond, with somberness and cognizance of consequences. Yes, things we all should be pondering …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Love sharing these class moments with you….I know you have the same kind of interaction with your students. At different ages, they ponder in different ways, but all students are capable of reaching into a deeper place through reading and reacting to the reading.


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