Mute Applause

It’s 3:35 on a Tuesday. I’m behind the wheel, waiting in a line of cars to pick up my two children from school in Athens, Ohio. I’m steeling myself somewhat for what can be a tense moment. They’re hungry most of all. But they’ve also been subjected to the usual physical and mental demands of an 8 hour day at a public elementary. The bodily conformity expected of desks, of single-file lines and scheduled bathroom breaks. They’ve also been trained to control and display themselves in particular ways at certain times. There are appropriate moments for speech, for issuing the correct type of responses, and moments for not speaking, for staying silent, for listening. There are moments when they must raise their hand in a certain way and occasions for other physical transactions, the scripted movements of physical education. Even during the 20–30 minutes of outside recess they are allotted, there are spatial and physical conventions for play and athletics they need to conform to, often, in order to successfully navigate the social circles of the playground. You’ve got to be able to throw and catch a football, dribble a basketball, and know the coded spoken responses to specific games — if you don’t want to be picked last by the team captain.

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Associate Professor of English at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Writing, Rhetoric, Digital Media.

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