Good example of a growing syndrome and the right--and wrong--ways to react to it. Professor gets fed up with students text-messaging, surfing the web, or otherwise ignoring what he has to offer in the classroom, and comes up with a good solution--and a poor frame:
If the philosopher at Syracuse University catches a student sending text messages or reading a newspaper in class, he’ll end the class on the spot and walk out. It doesn’t matter if there is but one texter in a large lecture of hundreds of students. If you text, he will leave.That's smart, and appropriate. By the time students are of college age, it is ridiculous to expect a professor to behalf like a 4th-grade homeroom teacher, or to put up with this kind of infantile behavior. I've done it myself: here and there, and once or twice, when I was really sufficiently fed-up--not usually with disrespectful behavior, as that shit doesn't fly in my classes, but more typically because I was fed-up with lack of preparation or simply lack of effort/engagement--I've walked.
Last week, when a student in a large lecture — in the front row no less — sent a text message, Thomas followed through on his threat (as he had done just a few days earlier). And he then sent the university’s chancellor, his dean, and all of the students an e-mail message explaining his actions and his frustration at the “brazen” disrespect he had received in class.....
Thomas followed up with a second e-mail, noting that at least one parent of a student had complained about two classes being called off. “Everyone has to understand that respect is a two-way street. I respect you, as I endeavor to do and you respect me. My experience has been that confronting students directly and asking them to stop has virtually no effect. I walk out to underscore the importance of what this means to me,” he wrote.
But as my friend Steve, a veteran of the job-sites as I am myself, says "you can go always 'go to' going global on somebody; that option is never off the table. But once you've used it, you've backed both parties into a corner." From that wise advice I've concluded that it's almost always better to defer going global, knowing that you can, but refraining from doing so.
The e-mail went on: “Now, I do not know how this will unfold. But I will either not teach the course PHI 191 in the future or I will simply resign from Syracuse University. But what I will not do is tolerate such brazen disrespect for me. I am an old fashion individual in that I believe in principles of right and wrong that transcend every race/ethnicity and sexual identity....The respect that I demand of you stems not from arrogance or any sense of self-importance but from my unfailing commitment to your excellence.”This is where he starts going wrong, I'd offer. You don't consign shit like this to an email. You might be pissed-off. You might be so pissed-off that you have blast out a lengthy screed articulating just how angry you are. But what you don't fuckin' do, is hit "Send" while you're still angry. It's pretty clear that the prof over-reacted--not in walking out, but in committing his long screed to email. That's just stupid. The purpose of email is communicate information and provide a "paper" trail. If you're just venting, you write offline, cool off overnight, and then edit/review/round-file in the morning. Basic rule of the post-paper office: anything consigned to an email will be forwarded--and the less you'd want it forwarded, the more likely it is to happen. DON'T DO IT.
On the other hand, I share the Philosophy prof's sense of fury: the distraction and sense of entitlement that accompanies the kids presuming they're "allowed" to text-message or play tic-tac-toe in the classroom is a real problem.
A few years back, PBS ran a great 4-part documentary called "Declining by Degrees" in which they followed faculty and students at four differently-profiled college programs across the country, and the disconnect between (some) faculty members' presumptions about students' responsibility to engage, put forth effort, keep up their end of the bargain, etc, and those of students who, like the little bastard in the IHE article, say things like the following:
"We the students are the customers, the consumers, the ones who make the choice every day to pay attention or not. I pay approximately $30,000 to go here, whether I text in class or not. Laurence Thomas gets paid whether his students text in class or not. Does he think that this is the first time this has happened on any college campus? Had he acted like nearly 100 percent of the other college professors in this country, he would have shrugged it off and continued with his lecture, which he is getting paid to do."To which I would respond, "you little bastard--if you yourself (e.g., "I") are 'paying $30,000 to go here,' I'll eat my hat. Somebody else is paying that $30K, so that you can act like an overgrown infant and avoid the work force for another 4 years. The best thing you can fuckin' do right now is walk out of this class, call your mommy on the umbilical cell phone, and say 'Mom, I've decided to move home and into the basement now, so that you can start doing my laundry now, so that I don't have to put up with these jerky old professors who expect me to like, know stuff' [cue Happy, Texas's "Wayne Wayne Wayne"]. The quicker drones like you are out of my classroom, the quicker I can give your vacated seat to somebody with a pulse and some human value."
Sadly, it's endemic: many undergraduates, anymore, think of college not as a course of study and work to get through, or even as a set of skills to mechanically acquire and regurgitate, but rather simply as a kind of "time-served" exile; e.g., "I've been walking around this campus like a zombie for four years, putting forth no effort, only resentfully and occasionally showing up for classes, text-messaging when I was in class, posting nasty reviews to ratemyprofessors any time some faculty member told me I was wasting his (and my own) time and my parents' money--but you I've been here four years and now you're 'obligated' to give me a degree. With A's!"
But the prof was dumb to ever put that stuff in an email to superiors--because it obviously got forwarded everywhere in creation. In the (very bad, very formulaic, but interestingly-charactered) Robert B. Parker "Spenser" novel Double Deuce, Spenser responds to some trivial vandalism by saying "you ever notice those junior high school vice principals who spend all their time checking passes and policing the hallways for chewing-gum wrappers? They make themselves look like assholes, right?"
Coping with childish and selfish behavior by conveying "I am above this trivial bullshit" is wise. Even wiser is finding a way to articulate--even explicitly and in these very words--"The three people who are text-messaging or surfing the web in this class are taking something away from the 67 people who are paying attention and working hard. Those three worthless drones need to either shape up or get out. Or I will."
That's how you change the frame.
[h/t to Big Brother for passing along the IHE story]