Photo by Ashley Batz on Unsplash

Silence & Self-Protection

Shanna Peeples
5 min readMar 27, 2019


If you’re comfortable with talking, try getting comfortable with not talking. If you’re comfortable with not talking, try getting comfortable with talking.— via Marshall Ganz

The hardest class I’ve taken, the one that’s prompted me to fall silent, to doubt my ability to think, rendering me incapable of writing anything, is one that has the simple title Power and Pedagogy.

Professor Houman Harouni requires potential students to write about their reasons for taking the course as a way of gaining permission to enroll. As I sat down to take up the task, I quickly found myself in tears. This open-ended offer to write somehow gave me permission to say to this stranger something I’ve never written. Holding the invitation as a kind of extension cord, I found that it electrified my purpose. I wrote in one fevered draft:

As for my reasons for wanting to take the course, my chief reason is a lifelong fascination with power and hierarchies. Part of this is due to my upbringing in an isolated part of the Texas Panhandle; part is due to my major careers: journalism and teaching.

My life is indelibly marked by the structural oppression in Texas, not the least of which is sexism. As an openly gay reporter, I existed in a barely tolerant professional newsroom but found that my sexuality gave me empathy and insight for marginalized populations in our area.

When I left reporting to become a teacher, my education law professor took me aside and said, “You can never be out and you can never admit to being gay or they’ll fire you. They’ll say it’s for something else, but it will be because you came out.”

And because I loved teaching more than anything, I edited and censored myself, conforming to a professional standard in Texas teaching of being closeted if you were anything other than straight and Christian.

Later, when I was recognized as Texas Teacher of the Year, I was told to “make sure to look like a lady” by more than one authority connected to the process.

Still later, when I found out I’d been chosen as the 2015 National Teacher of the Year, my first thought was: “They can’t fire me now. It would look bad.”

For most of my professional life, I conformed to invisible power structures and…



Shanna Peeples

Ed. Professor | Harvard Ed.L.D. | 2015 National Teacher of the Year