Wednesday, April 02, 2008

If you text in class, this prof will leave

Hey, I like this guy. I think he's right that texting during class shows a basic disrespectful attitude to the professor and the rest of the class. From Inside Higher Ed [boldface mine]:

Some professors threaten to confiscate students’ cell phones if they go off during class. Laurence Thomas has his own approach to classroom distractions. 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.

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. In the e-mail, he noted that the student who sent the text message is Cuban, and that last year, two Latino students had started to play tic-tac-toe during his class.

While Thomas noted that white students are also rude, he expressed frustration that — especially as a minority scholar himself — he would be treated in this way. “One might have thought that for all the talk about racism and the good of social equality, non-white students would be particularly committed to respecting a black professor,” Thomas wrote.

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.

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. Ethnic diversity has become the gospel of Syracuse University. I maintain that ethnic diversity shorn of respect is utterly vapid. 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. And when talk about all else blinds us to this reality, then the classroom becomes empty and meaningless.”

The incident has set off a debate at Syracuse — and multiple e-mail messages from the professor to his class, which have since been forwarded widely at the university — about what steps are appropriate for a professor to assure respect during a class, and when the mention of race is appropriate. Thomas, who has published widely and won awards for his teaching, has many fans on the campus. But many are disturbed by last week’s events and the opinions posted on the Web site of The Daily Orange run all over the place. . .

In an interview with Inside Higher Ed, Thomas described his perspective on what happened — and why he responded as he did. First, he stressed that he warns students of his policies at the beginning of his courses (and comments in the Syracuse student newspaper confirm this). He also said that he feels he has no choice but to go with a group response. He also said that he carefully prepares every class session, even picking out appropriate music to play to go with his lectures. He doesn’t take his responsibilities lightly, he said.

“Back in the day, a professor could have gotten into a student’s face and said ‘don’t do such and such.’ You would be up for a lawsuit if you did that today, and if student says no, there is a stalemate, and I look like a fool.” With a female student, he added, a professor could be accused of sexual harassment.

“If you walk out, you make a statement,” he said. And in the past, the statement has generally made the point, he said.

Thomas said he applies his policy to text messaging or opening a newspaper in class. He is more tolerant than some professors of a cell phone going off, saying that he realizes that everyone forgets to turn off the phone sometimes. . .

Asked about the idea of walking out on a class when a student sends text messages, [Gerald] Amada [author of Coping With the Disruptive College Student: A Practical Model and Coping With Misconduct in the College Classroom: A Practical Model] said: “It’s a horrible strategy. There is something inherently wrong from a moral standpoint with collective punishment. It’s punitive. It’s unreasonable because it holds all students responsible for the behavior of all other students. It’s not legitimate.”

Amada said that while he understands the frustration professors feel, “there’s only one person in that room who has the bureaucratic, legal, and moral authority to establish discipline — and that’s the instructor.” He said that he would have no problem with an instructor telling a student who is texting to leave the class. If the student refuses (or even if the student complies), the instructor should write up notes with the student’s name and report the student (assuming the instructor has made this a clear rule at the beginning of the semester). . .

I totally disagree with this author that group punishment is "inherently wrong."

I agree it's not fair (neither is life), but it can be very effective. My son's P.E. teacher a few years ago had a problem with some girls in the class constantly talking and he finally had the entire class sit out P.E. Needless to say, that did not go over too well. My son was very upset that they had missed P.E. and complained to me that it wasn't fair. I let him know that of course it wasn't fair, but the teacher had to teach the class as a whole and needed everyone's attention.

I then asked, did the girls talk in the next P.E. class, and he said, no, because the rest of the class leaned on them not to so that they wouldn't miss P.E. again. Bingo, I said, that's why he did it. Now, whether missing a college philosophy class is the same as missing P.E., I don't know, but collective pressure works.

Read it all.

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