Date of Award

1-1-2009

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Speech Communication

First Advisor

Warren, John

Abstract

On April 16, 2007, Virginia Tech became the site of the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history (Breed, 2007). Because of the tragedy at Virginia Tech, news reports all over the U.S. probed about what caused the perpetrator, Seung-Hui Cho, to kill 32 students and faculty members. As the mainstream media talked about the possible causes, they ultimately pointed out that Cho's silence should have been detected as a warning sign to his violent rampage. As a result, the media named Cho a "silent killer." Due to the U.S. media's construction of silence through Cho, I argue that the news coverage helped perpetuate the notion that silence is not only a negative attribute in education, but it is also a dangerous behavior that can pose a threat to people's safety. Therefore, I ask in this dissertation, how did the news coverage of Virginia Tech serve as a public pedagogy of silence? That is, I argue that the news coverage of Virginia Tech served as what Giroux (1994) calls "public pedagogy" in which the media educate and influence the public about how silence should be understood in the classroom. With the media's construction of silence through Cho, it is timely to address how the meaning of silence has changed pedagogically. Even though numerous scholars have written about silence, very few--if any--frame silence within the performance paradigm, specifically in pedagogy. In this dissertation, I introduce silence as a pedagogical performance by using critical communication pedagogy as a theoretical framework to deconstruct problematic media constructions of silence. Through the use of cultural criticism, I analyze 36 mainstream U.S. mediated texts (e.g., newspapers, magazines, and news transcripts) to understand how the media rhetorically defined and constructed silence as a dangerous behavior. I also use an interview as part of multi-methodological approach to cultural criticism, adding clarification on how the surveillance of student behaviors, bodies, and pedagogical practices that do not fit the image of safety affect students in university classrooms.

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