Comment & Analysis
Mar 4, 2020

Why We Need to Break the Silence on Mute Tutorials

It could be Catholic guilt, but remaining studiously silent is a curiously absurd feature of Irish students in tutorials, writes Faye Curran.

Faye CurranDeputy Opinion Editor
Gearóid Gibbs for The University Times

Every fortnight I find myself in a stuffy, windowless room in College Green for a tutorial that I am invariably ill-prepared for. For the next 50 minutes, some will actively avoid questioning or participation, praying the tutorial will pass quickly and that their glaringly obvious lack of knowledge on the topic will go unnoticed by the TA.

For others, tutorials are a chance to take the spotlight and a savoured moment to share opinions and knowledge. This great division of society – whether you speak in a tutorial or not – is comparable only to the other great schisms of history, like the Republicans versus the Democrats, or those who think Friends is funny versus those who have a sense of humour.

My group of peers is a diverse one, with international students seemingly making up half of my class, and it is in this key difference that the separation of the room is most obvious. The problem – in my eyes – is a question of education, and whether or not you found yourself educated on the Emerald Isle or further afield.


For those of us who had the good fortune to survive the leaving certificate, the silence is deafening when we are pressed to give our opinion, compared with our international classmates in the same situation. Every tutorial has its uncomfortable moments, but in our most stereotypically Irish way, most of us are too afraid to come across as conceited, resulting in a great deal of humming and hawing.

Sometimes, even a borderline outrageous comment is a breath of fresh air – at least it sparks some form of debate

Blaming all of life’s problems on the leaving cert is an antiquated and cliched excuse, but in this case, it may have some truth. The system teaches students to retain and regurgitate information, spending little time on discussion of the topics or the formation of personal opinions.

Second-level students resemble a flock of parrots, with most never giving much thought to how they personally feel about their subject matter. And with students never being forced to formulate a point of view in secondary school, college tutorials can somewhat resemble a gathering of junior infants, with most of us sitting around with our mouths wide open and drool dripping down our faces.

Not all opinions are good ones, and I am sure that every student has fantasised about the college dramatically going on fire or the government magically calling off class forever, just to end the pain of listening to someone pontificate for 50 minutes. But surely the sound of an arrogant classmate preaching is better than sitting in complete silence while the TA holds back tears? Sometimes, even a borderline outrageous comment is a breath of fresh air – at least it sparks some form of debate.

I’ll be the first person to admit that emulating the actions of Americans isn’t always an advisable choice, but when it comes to giving an opinion, the Yanks have got it figured out. With an education system that puts great focus on class presentation and group discussion, most US students won’t hesitate to formulate some opinion on the topic of the lesson – questionable or not – much to the delight of us Irish.

I’ll be the first to admit that emulating Americans isn’t always advisable, but when it comes to giving an opinion, the Yanks have it figured out

They are the saviours of our unending silence and lack of eye contact, and without them, to put it in the most Irish way possible – we’d be fecked.

Maybe it’s the remnants of Catholic guilt, or maybe it’s just the fear of having any sort of notion about yourself, but our innate inability to give our opinion is at the root of the Irish psyche. Even when the braver ones among us do pluck up the courage to attempt to answer, our responses are punctuated by diffidence and a lack of surety.

No matter how prepared we may be, our lack of confidence means some would quite literally prefer to jump out the top window of College Green than answer even the most simple of questions in front of the rest of the group.

In the end, group discussion is for the benefit of everyone. It takes away the solitude of studying alone, while also giving students the opportunity to socialise and debate. I’m no stranger to showing up to the tutorial without even glancing at the readings, but I will always make some effort to break the silence with an opinion, no matter how incorrect it may be.

Irish culture may have progressed greatly in the last 50 years, but we still have a long way to go when it comes to accepting that being confident doesn’t always mean you’re a pompous know-it-all.

At least that’s what I think anyway … I’m not too sure though, maybe that’s wrong.

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