In 1983 I wrote my senior undergraduate thesis comparing and contrasting the life and works of two great writers I’ve long admired–Franz Kafka and Flannery O’Connor. Both authors’ works are unusual to say the least. Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” begins with a man finding that he has been transformed into a giant insect; Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People” ends with a corrupt bible salesman seducing a strange young woman named Joy-Hulga and stealing her artificial leg.
Many question why a devoutly religious woman from Georgia would write stories with such unusual, grotesque characters and such unsettling, even shocking, plots. One person wrote O’Connor and asked her why she wrote the way she did. Her answer still speaks to me:
“To the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.”
CAMPUS: A Novel That Wants to Be a Musical is my attempt to follow in the footsteps of O’Connor. It gives voice to my concerns about what is happening to higher education in this country. It is not intended to be my reality, but it is representative of a reality as I see it.
And lament it.
No, the campus in my novel is not representative of the campus where I work or any campus where I have ever worked or studied. The characters, even the human ones, are not descriptive of any person I have ever met. They are symbols only, but they serve my point and they speak for me.
They give me a voice again.
And it’s kind of a funny voice, I think.
The newest episode, that you can access at this link, introduces the fairy godteachers Belinda McBride and Brian Teasdale and features a song with music written and performed by Curtis McCarley, my good friend, former student, and composer for our play A Carolina Story. I had fun singing backup.
In July 2000, then presidential candidate George W. Bush addressed the NAACP to discuss his plans for educational and economic reform, using the phrase “No Child Left Behind.” Despite how that infamous initiative turned out, the speech that introduced the idea was one of the best speeches I ever heard Bush give, maybe only second behind his speech at the Washington Cathedral after 9/11. Regardless of where you may fall on the political spectrum, George W. Bush’s call for educational equity should resonate with us all today.
Recognizing the continuing disparity between the rich and the poor despite the growing prosperity of the nation, Bush says, “Our nation must make new a commitment to equality and upward mobility to all of the citizens.” One of the ways to make this happen in Bush’s mind was to equalize educational opportunities for every American. That was the dream anyway. Introducing his plan, Bush refers to “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” of how we have become complacent in offering opportunities to all no matter what their position in society.
In the last few years of a long career as an educator, I find myself discouraged and even a bit despondent as we move ever away from the lofty goal set forward in Bush’s speech. In 2000, the community college was still a place where those, especially the traditionally underserved, could gain a quality education that would allow them to advance in society, perhaps gaining a two-year degree, qualifying them for a trade, or leading to the opportunities and rewards, both tangible and intangible, that come with further educational opportunities. The goal was not only to provide meaningful work through a real education but also to bring real meaning to their education apart from work, enriching their lives and their communities in the process.
However, a disturbing trend is increasing at alarming rates within our society, continuing its spread to our colleges and universities–the lowering of the bar for the sake of efficiency, and of course, cost effectiveness. Increased pressure from students, faculty, administrators, and society in general to make English classes easier. Decrease the requirements and the standard so students can get that piece of paper sooner. Make gateway English classes less rigorous (for their sakes, of course) because it is too hard for people who work, too hard for people with children, too hard for low income people, too hard for people who didn’t get a good high school education or who are still in high school or who have been out of high school for a while. We can’t expect OUR students to maintain Standard English in a college-level English class, can we?
Do you hear what I hear? It’s the soft bigotry of low expectations.
Do we expect less because it costs too much time and money to expect more? Do we not think our students are worth the effort to push for excellence in the name of true learning? We discriminate when we ask so little. It is demeaning and arrogant. Who are we to expect so little? In the Letter to the Romans Chapter 12, verse 3, Paul writes, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you” (New International Version). Are we, am I, thinking too highly of myself? Am I, are we, guilty of the bigotry of low expectations? Perhaps I am the chief of all sinners in this regard.
But I repent and encourage others in society to do so as well.
What are we really saying when we consider “meeting expectations” as equal to an A instead of the C it should indicate? Does our soft bigotry sound like this:
“It’s okay, Nondescript C Student, that you plagiarized the paper, even though I have provided sources, conducted classes on the subject, and provided workshops that you didn’t attend. You just didn’t know what you were doing. I see now that your academic dishonesty is my fault. I mean you work, right? You hate that job and need at least an associate’s degree to do what you really want to do for a living, but I get it. Who wants to really put in any effort to actually learn the subject when it’s a subject you are being forced to take and don’t enjoy at all? Yes, I think putting in some effort to actually read three pages in the text and view a five-minute video explaining in-text citations is a bit too much to ask when we are in the midst of a pandemic. I can’t expect you to have time with all that you are doing. I don’t really know what you are doing, but I know it must be way too much to find time for the education you say you want. You just want it on your terms, not your instructor’s, am I right?
“I’m probably not being flexible enough. Or explaining things well enough. Or maybe my online class is not designed properly. Or perhaps I am not considering your learning style sufficiently. In exchange for my poor pedagogy, let me just allow you to redo that paper. It won’t help you, but it will make me feel like I helped you, so I will feel better, and you will not feel frustrated and complain about me to my superiors, which will make them feel better. But first, let me mark every single error in the paper for you, so that you will not have to think about how to find problems in your writing and correct them. I mean, after all, you aren’t really going to need to know how to properly revise, edit, or document your essays because, I mean, really, how likely are you to go on and get your BA or BS?
“Besides, we need you to be trained for the type of job that people like us, and our children, don’t want to do. We need somebody to do these jobs. It will be easy with a little bit of training to find the type of employment that a person of your background is suited for. Do you even really need a liberal arts education for the kind of life you’re bound to lead? Why in the world should we as a society expect you to read and analyze a poem? Not that I would ever ask you to do such a thing. Read a whole novel by the fourteenth week of the semester? That’s unreasonable. You’re the first in your family to go to college AND you’re still a high school student AND you work AND it’s a pandemic. I can’t ask such a thing of you.
“Now, critically reading novels and poetry requires noticing small details as well as understanding figurative language (like sarcasm) and the nuance of language. That kind of deep reading, especially by authors outside of your demographic, leads to things like, I don’t know, developing empathy. But why would a person like you need to empathize with your fellow human beings during and after a global pandemic? Not really very practical, is it? Not with the economy in the shape that it is and people’s mental health deteriorating. I don’t want to inconvenience you or cause you more stress, so don’t let correcting a little ‘ole plagiarism infraction stand in the way of going to your low-paying, soul-sucking job. So, I am just going to ignore the little mistake of copying word for word from your source without quotations or in-text citation. I know you didn’t intend to do it. We’ll just forget it ever happened, shall we? It will be easier for all of us.
“And while I’m at it, I suppose I should have a meeting with you to help you make the revisions and edits that I have marked. Oh, you don’t have time for an in-person meeting at my appointment times and office hours? How about some other time? You don’t want to come to campus for an in-person meeting. How about a virtual one? A ten-minute phone call? Just don’t have the time? In that case, since you just need a C or above to pass on to the really important training that you will actually need in real life, let me just find some extra credit you can do to make up those measly eight or nine percentage points you need to have a C. (A person like you doesn’t need to know how to communicate clearly and effectively in English, do you? How will that help you get a job?)”
Okay, perhaps I am too carried away, but I had to get it out of my system. When I write in this satiric way, I hear the truth–too many of us who cling to our degrees, careers, businesses, and positions in society–who drive sedans and SUV’s, live in comfortable homes, enjoy financial security and a standing in society–too many of us who think so highly of ourselves are, in essence, only “insects on the leaf” as the Ghost of Christmas Present says, looking down on “our hungry brothers in the dust.”
And when, or if, our conscience is inconveniently pricked, we try to cover up our sin, by “making it easier” for the ragged rabble, requiring less and less and less of those poor, pitiful students. Sadly shaking our heads, we move to wipe every tear from their eyes, saying, “Well, really, what did we expect?”
One of the employees in our public relations department at our college had a great idea to encourage students during this difficult time by compiling short videos from faculty, staff, and administrators. I have been enjoying watching them as they’ve come out and was finally able to record my own, but alas, I was too late to be included in one of the compilations, so I decided to show it to you. I will also link this blog post to my students.
This video took only a few minutes to complete. I used the camera on my laptop, which automatically downloaded as an mp4 file, uploaded it to YouTube, copied the link, and pasted it on the blog. Wallah!
This little video may not make it to many students at my college to encourage them, but making it sure encouraged me for some weird reason.
If you haven’t had a chance to read the latest edition of Teach. Write., I encourage you to take a look:
Not earth-shattering. Not life-destroying. Not important at all in the grand scheme of things, or even in the niggling scheme of things, but here are some of my pet peeves. I freely admit that I peeve myself at times, and I’m sure, others as well. But here goes anyway–for kicks and grins.
Using st, th, and nd when writing dates–Example–January 1st, 2020. In American usage, the convention has been, and will continue in my teaching, to be–write January 1, 2020 and say January 1st, 2020. The problem is that the British often use the endings when writing the dates, leading to understandable confusion. I am an anglophile from way back, so I’m not dissing the Brits, but I am also an American English teacher, so I will teach American standards. Here’s more about it from Daily Writing Tips: January 1 Doesn’t Need an “st”
Placing the end mark outside the quotation marks–Example. She said, “We are in America, so we should use American punctuation conventions”. Yes, we should, and in American English the punctuation almost always goes INSIDE the quotation marks. “We should use American punctuation conventions.” Here is more on the subject from Grammarly: Does Punctuation Go Inside Quotation Marks?
Leaving out the possessive apostrophe OR adding an apostrophe with a simple plural. We need apostrophes, yet we don’t need apostrophes. The rules are simple:
Use an apostrophe with contractions or to show possession.
Do NOT use an apostrophe with a simple plural.
If the word ends in s, then generally the apostrophe comes after the s, but there are significant exceptions, such as when using irregular plurals.
It seems insignificant, and maybe it is sometimes, but not using the apostrophe when appropriate and using it unnecessarily can both lead to misunderstanding and also drives Mrs. Winkler crazy!
An example–I cant attend the New Years party, but I dont want to go to Sherrys house again because I dont like her childrens’ loud toys’ that company’s seem to love selling at this time of year.
Now my spell checker caught dont, Sherrys, and childrens’, but not the cant , Years, toys’, and company’s because although the spellcheck programs are more and more sophisticated, they are not (yet) sentient and can’t replace a writer’s own careful editing and revision.
Here’s more on the subject of apostrophes from Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL), one of the first and still one of the best: Apostrophe Introduction
It’s and its, a problem that gets its own category. Its own category–no apostrophe because it’s a possessive pronoun. It’s a possessive pronoun--I used an apostrophe because I am using the contraction It’s to mean It is. I think people understand the rule for the most part, but its an easy mistake to make (I did that one on purpose. I swear). Here are the rules again (not trying desperately to be clever this time):
It’sis the contraction for It is–Example–It’s snowing on January 5, 2020. The little trick I give my students is, “Can you say, It is in place of It’s? If so, then you have correctly used the apostrophe.
Its is the possessive pronoun–Example–The horse chewed on itshay. I understand why people get confused here: Its is a possessive pronoun. We hear the word possessive, and we immediately think apostrophe, but I tell my students, think of it this way– we don’t write hi’s car or his’ car do we? Nouns that show possession use apostrophes; pronouns that show possession do not. Here is an exercise to practice distinguishing between the two from one of my favorite grammar sites–Grammar Bytes: Word Choice–Exercise 13
Capitalizing when one shouldn’t and not capitalizing when one should. Okay, I get it that people don’t want to capitalize. It is sooooooooo much trouble to hit the shift key and type a letter, especially when writing with a smart phone. But increasingly I am seeing words that should NOT be capitalized being capitalized, especially doctor, lawyer, mother, father, even brother and sister, as well as a myriad of other words that should not be capitalized in academic writing. I am not too peeved by occasional unnecessary capitalization, often the person is just trying to show respect, but often capitalization errors show a lack of concern for proper writing, even when the person is writing assignments for a composition class! Here is more about capitalization from Grammar Girl: When Should You Capitalize Words?
I definitely get peeved when a person does not capitalize the personal pronoun “I” when emailing an English instructor. Come on, guys! Get with the program!
How much can an English teacher take?
I promise I won’t get peeved with you if you submit your best work for publication in my bi-annual literary magazine Teach. Write. Submissions are open for the 2020 spring/summer edition until March 1. See submission guidelines here.
For, money makes the world go around
…the world go around
…the world go around.
Money makes the world go ’round
The clinking, clanking sound of…
Money money money money
Money money money money…
Get a little, get a little
Money money money money…
Mark, a yen, a buck or a pound,
That clinking, clanking, clunking sound,
Is all that makes the world go ’round,
It makes the world go ’round
from “Money Makes the World Go Around” by John Kander and Fred Eb from the musical Cabaret.
Remember that song from Cabaret? When the sleazy, clown-like emcee and outrageous Sally Bowles sing “Money Makes the World Go Around”? The film version of the classic musical about greed and corruption in pre-Nazi Germany made a huge impression on me when I first saw it as a youngster. Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey were “divinely decadent” in the scene, provocatively contorting as they extolled the virtues of the Almighty Dollar, or mark, or yen. Here’s a link if you want to see it: Money.
Kind of creepy, isn’t it?
Don’t get me wrong. I like money. I really do. I appreciate that with sensible management, thanks largely to my wonderful husband, we are able to sustain a comfortable living, allowing us to travel frequently to see family, provide the basis of financial security for our daughter, give to the charities of our choice, as well as save for emergencies and retirement. All of these things are wonderful.
What creeps me out about money is the overwhelming love for it that the society at large seems to have. And I mean love in the biblical sense, as in the root of all evil kind of love. I mean hot and heavy LUST for it. It permeates everything, including higher education, of course.
Here’s the even bigger problem for me.
I can’t do a darn thing about it.
I mean, I’ve tried. I speak up about the intrinsic value of education beyond training a workforce. I write about it on this blog. I try my best to provide a true education to my students–one that goes beyond passing tests or turning in assignments with a modicum of grammatical and mechanical errors so they can earn a grade in a course and be passed on to the next course. I try to give my students an education that honors their individuality, that challenges them, that enters into their hopes and dreams, no matter what their socio-economic status, no matter how much it will cost the State to educate them, no matter what they want to study, even if they want to study arts and humanities.
But I am losing the battle. Why? Because Money. Makes. The World. Go. Around.
Alright then, I can play along. Let’s play Purely Pecuniary. Let’s only talk about Money.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is a good place to go. It takes a few easy searches to find information that shows a bachelor’s degree or more is preferred if the goals are employment and wages:
Notice that at all times from 1998 to 2018 those who have bachelor’s degrees or higher have the lowest unemployment rate, adjusting for seasonal work.
Note that production (the gray dot) is projected to have almost negative 5% growth by 2026 with wages decreasing to below the median annual wage.
Notice the highest growth of employment is healthcare support followed closely by personal care and service, but these two occupations, requiring little to no post-secondary education, are also located well underneath the median wage line.
The higher paying careers with high employment are also in the healthcare area, but both occupations require either advanced degrees or the equivalent in technical education. Obviously, those with more advanced degrees will make more money.
Computer and mathematical careers have higher wages, but to get those higher wages, many will need a four-year degree or higher as this next graph indicates:
Clearly, earning a bachelor’s degree or higher is not only the most likely avenue to employment but is also the best direction for those who wish to make two times the median wage, or more. If you want to read more (and see more charts with important data ), then go to this informative slideshow from the BLS.
So, if indeed money does make the world go around (I don’t really believe it for a second), then obtaining a liberal arts education or professional degree is the way to do it, and if students need or want to save money, they can begin that journey by obtaining an associate’s degree at a quality community college and transferring to a university as a junior.
Furthermore, some universities in my state and others have drastically lowered tuition, so if students transfer to a cost-effective four-year institution nearby so they can live at home, they will have an opportunity to graduate with little or no debt. Win-Win.
See, I like money. But I LOVE providing students with an education that will give them more than a paycheck. I want to help students receive an education that frees them to seek meaningful work and otherwise enhances their lives, and the lives of others, more than they ever dreamed possible, by giving them a purpose beyond consumption–beyond material gain.
Many people look at higher education as a business. Staff and administrators with no close ties to the classroom can, and maybe even should, look at it that way. The leadership at the college where I work believes strongly in the business model for education, and that’s a-okay with me.
In the end, I think when they say, “run this place like a business,” all they really mean is”organize this place like a successful business with happy customers and employees.” Those tasked with strategic planning, raising funds, balancing budgets, managing payroll, processing complaints, and other important institutional purposes are right, to a great extent, if they see the college as a business and the students as customers.
However, as a faculty member, especially one who is tasked with helping students become more competent readers and writers, I would be, excuse the Southernism, in deep do-do if I treated my students like customers. Here are some reasons why I don’t:
The customer isn’t always right. Besides being a dismally outdated expression, it has almost always been poor business practice to believe that the customer is always right. Furthermore, it would be a ludicrous attitude for an English teacher to have because one of the biggest aspects of my job is pointing out how my students are in error and helping them correct and avoid those mistakes in the future.
My classes are often a required part of every student’s curriculum, a requirement that an increasing number of my students resent having to take. However, more and more businesses and institutions are telling educators, as I wrote about in a recent blog post, that the reading and writing skills of many potential employees are inadequate. Employers are turning more and more to colleges and universities, especially two-year colleges, to help bridge these gaps. Therefore, although my immediate customer, the student, does not always see the need for advanced technical writing skills and comprehension of complex texts, the college’s stakeholders most certainly do, or should.
Customers hire people to do things for them; I require my students to do things for me. A business model approach would put the emphasis on me doing things for my students instead of my students working for me. Of course, I am tasked with disseminating the information clearly, but I can’t help a student who does not complete assignments in a timely manner. The few students who are hyper critical of me tend to be ones who have put the onus of their education on me, which deprives them of developing in the subject.
Generally, one should not discipline a customer, but I must discipline my students. I spend a portion of almost every class managing disruptive students. I must also confront students when they are falling behind, correct them when their attitudes are inappropriate, and challenge them when they speak untruths or violate classroom policies. If I am to be effective in the classroom, my students must see me as the authority, not only in subject matter, but also in matters of classroom management.
The classroom can not be dictated by customer satisfaction. Not that I don’t want my students to be satisfied and happy. I want them to enjoy my class, and most seem to enjoy my courses very much. However, students must still earn grades. Sometimes, if students do not earn the grades they desire or if I do not conduct the class in a way that pleases them, they will criticize or blame me for their average or poor performance in the class. The same sometimes happens if I insist on adherence to class rules or the college’s policies and procedures. These students may be unhappy customers now, but down the road, they may thank their lucky stars that I challenged them, maintained strict standards, and disciplined them when necessary. If I treated these dissatisfied students as customers, I fear I would be far too conciliatory, and they would be harmed as a result.
For these reasons and more, I like to look at myself as a doctor rather than a business person. Doctors and college instructors are both in the “business,” not of making money, but of enriching other people’s lives in a myriad of ways. We can only succeed if the patient or student is dedicated to exerting the effort needed to improve. My general practitioner and I talk a great deal about the similarities in our professions and share some of the same frustrations about how the customer approach, while useful in some ways, if taken too far, can be hurtful to both medicine and higher education. Here are some ways I see myself as a doctor:
Just like my doctor, I am an expert in specific disciplines, holding advanced degrees. I have had five years undergraduate school with degrees in English and German, two years for a Bachelor of Science in English Education with graduate level classes in Chaucer, 17th Century English Literature, Modern British Literature, and American Poetry. My final degree took two years; I earned a Masters of Education and sat for comprehensive exams in 19th Century British Literature, Rhetoric and Composition, Linguistics, and Curriculum Development, graduating summa cum laude. I was also awarded the Kim L. Brown Award for Excellence in Tutoring my first year and the Theodore L. Huguelet Award for Outstanding Graduate Assistant my second.
Just like my doctor, I must constantly seek professional development to stay current in my disciplines. I have attended numerous state and national conferences, including those conducted by the National Association of Teachers of English, The League of Innovation in Community Colleges, the Southeastern Theatre Conference, the North Carolina Community College System, and the North Carolina Writers’ Network, often times presenting, and always attending multiple sessions on issues ranging from developmental English to teaching advanced literature and creative writing courses to increasing student success and retention. I continue to read and study in my disciplines, as well as write. As I have written many times in my blog, I believe writing for publication is one of the best ways to become a better writing instructor. I practice what I preach, having published dozens of short stories in print and online publications, written two novels (working on my third) and having had four plays produced (soon to be five). Last year I launched the literary magazine Teach. Write. (Submissions open until August 15–click to see submission guidelines) My third edition will come out on September 1.
Just like my doctor, I do my best work when I confer with students one on one. When students bring their papers to my office and we work on them together, they leave better writers. I can almost guarantee it. I have always preferred to teach writing one-on-one. When I can concentrate on one student and give her or him my full attention, I am at my best. I’m no slouch in the full classroom, but I’m best when there is just one student and little ‘ole me in the room.
Just like my doctor, I am an excellent diagnostician. I ask my students to write a diagnostic paper on the first day of class in my composition courses. After thirty years of teaching writing, it only takes a paragraph for me to have a good grasp of what a student’s primary writing issues are whether they be content, organization, sentence structure, word usage, grammar, mechanics, or a mixture of all of these, which is usually the case.
Just like my doctor, I must deliver bad news. It was very difficult for my doctor when I broke down after hearing a diagnosis of Type II Diabetes. Although my case isn’t particularly severe, my father, a double amputee, had died from complications of diabetes just two weeks before my diagnosis. Despite how difficult it was, my doctor had a moral obligation to inform me, calmly and compassionately, what was at stake and what my treatment options were. I have the same duty, not as severe maybe, but it can be difficult for some students to hear that I can not extend a due date, change a grade, or allow a re-write. I have had students dissolve into tears in my office over the stresses of managing school, work and family obligations. Trying to be as compassionate as I can while still maintaining my standards, I seek for a solution that will satisfy both of us–usually I do.
Just like my doctor, No matter how well-trained, experienced, compassionate, and effective I am, if the students do not accept my authority and follow my prescriptions for improvement, I am powerless to help them. I wish I could convince all my students that my methods, although they may be different than other instructors, really do work. Improvement, even over only sixteen weeks of instruction, can be astounding, under one condition–Students must dedicate themselves to applying what they’ve learned to the work as it is assigned.
It is unfortunate that just like my doctor, although I am highly experienced and effective at what I do, many people, including those in the general society, sometimes do not recognize my expertise or don’t trust me to manage my own professional affairs. My doctor and I lament this sad fact more than any other. In her profession the insurance companies, hospital administrators, and patients, even though they are not the ones with the ability to deliver the required service, are increasingly the ones who make decisions that, in the past, were her purview–things like how much time to spend with a patient, which treatment options to offer, even something as basic as a diagnosis.
So far, I’m happy to say, at my college anyway, although there have been moves toward standardized curriculum in some non-discipline specific classes, the English faculty still dictates what is in the English curriculum, and I, as an instructor, am given ample latitude, to conduct my classes as I see fit, as long as I uphold the college’s mission and the state’s expected goals and objectives.
I am sorry to say, however, the same can not be said for many of my colleagues. The overall move to standardize college-level instruction (mainly, it sometimes appears, to appease the data-collection gods) continues to alarm this 30-year teaching veteran. The short-sighted idea of making all classes look, sound, smell, feel and taste alike may be the kind of fast-food academic meal that pleases the palate of a freshman or sophomore, or fills the plates of the textbook industry, but what happens when students arrive at the four-year college or enter the work world and are suddenly asked to slowly eat a full, home-cooked, balanced meal, including green leafy vegetables and begin exercising their critical thinking, reading and writing skills to boot? I care about my students. I want them to eat right and exercise now!
Just like a doctor, I am tasked with helping sometimes unwilling patients/students look far into the future and see their lives ten, twenty, thirty years from now. I must convince them to take care of their academic health, building their strength with a diet of informative lessons and strenuous writing exercises that will help them grow and develop, prepared for the rigors of the life ahead of them.
Okay, I’ve carried the metaphor about as far as I can, I know, so I will stop now.
One more thing.
Reducing or eliminating faculty autonomy, also called academic freedom, in any area of curriculum, including planning, delivery, or assessment, will surely limit the diverse content, instructional styles, and varying assessment methods that effectively prepare college students for further education, training, and employment.
I can’t help myself.
The Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACSCOC), which accredits colleges and universities in the southern states, seems to agree with me. Standard 6.4 (page 53) says:
The institution publishes and implements appropriate policies and procedures for preserving and protecting academic freedom.
Rationale and Notes
The essential role of institutions of higher education is the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge. Academic freedom respects the dignity and rights of others while fostering intellectual freedom of faculty to teach, research, and publish. Responsible academic freedom enriches the contributions of higher education to society.
If college-level education is to deserve the adjective “higher,” then it must offer students more than the homogenized curriculum of their elementary, middle school, and high school years. After all, as the great British poet William Cowper wrote in the poem “The Task,” (1785) “Variety is the very spice of life, That gives it all its flavor.”
A little while ago, I had a worse than usual incident with in-class cell phone usage. It was towards the end of class near the end of a semester when I was so distracted by a student’s texting that I asked him to put the phone away. He put it face down on the table in front of him. Less than a minute later, he was on the phone again. I asked him to put it away again. He put it face down on the table. I asked him to put it out of sight. He put it in his lap. I asked him to totally put it away, and he completely lost it, saying things I knew he would soon regret. (To his credit, he emailed me that evening to apologize.) I asked the student to leave for the day. He left, but reluctantly, and only after saying a few more regrettable things.
I have my own regrets: that I didn’t have a more clear-cut policy in the beginning of the semester, that I have been too loosey-goosey with inappropriate use of technology in my class. So, I have been drafting my new cell phone policy. It’s pretty hard core, at least compared to my previous policy. I know. I know. Some of you will think what a total marshmallow I must be, but like I told one of my teacher friends long ago, “You know what happens when a marshmallow sits on the shelf too long? It gets hard as a rock!”
So here’s the new policy:
Cell Phone Usage: Cell phone usage has become a major problem in my classes, distracting to the students who are texting or surfing, to those around them, and to me, making it harder for me to teach effectively. If I must consistently stop the class to discipline students on cell phones, I waste instructional time and risk embarrassing or angering the cell phone user as well as the rest of the students.
Therefore, I am instituting a stricter policy this year. Once class begins, phones are to be silenced and kept totally out of sight. Any student having a visible cell phone, holding, or using one during class may likely be asked to leave for the day, even if it is the first offense. If I am consistently having to ask any student to leave the class for violation of the cell phone policy, then I may submit a Behavioral Assessment Form to Student Services as described in the student handbook, which could result in further discipline, perhaps even suspension from the class.
What do you think?
Anyone want to share a policy that he or she has found effective?
I would love to hear from you. I have tried so many different things and nothing seems to work.
It’s not too late to submit to the Fall/Winter 2018 edition of my online literary journal for writing teachers–Teach. Write. Submissions are open until August 1. Look here for submission guidelines.
Busy grading and working on the new edition of Teach. Write. slated for publication on April 1, but been thinking a great deal about optimal number of students in online writing intensive classes. Below is a link to an article by Wayne D’Orio, an award-winning education journalist, writing for Inside Higher Education.
Just wanted you to know that I posted midterm grades for all my students to see. Of course, because I have open grade books, all of my students have access to their grades at any time in the semester, not just at mid-term. Oh, FYI, by checking the gradebook, any student can see any major graded assignment (and most minor assignments) with a completed rubric or checklist explaining how the grade was calculated (often I include an annotated PDF file for additional accessible feedback as well).
If students complain that I do not give enough feedback, which I hear they are doing quite loudly and inaccurately, please direct them to the individual assignments where they can see all of the work I have assessed as well as any supporting documents. If they have questions or concerns, please encourage them to contact me rather than scrawl rather inappropriate things about me on the bathroom walls. This behavior is costing the college money and cutting into the maintenance department’s bottom line, I have been told.
Students can also, of course, ask me for explanations or help if they come to see me during my office hour or make an appointment. I have always made myself available to students who need help and will continue to do so, but I don’t always have time directly before or after class as I have many classes and other duties, as you know. Oh, occasionally, I am so sorry to say, I must also use the ladies room, though a student once wanted to follow me in there to ask a question. I told him he would have to wait in my office just a minute or two. I trust that was acceptable.
I have been offering the support mentioned above to all of my students for years now and continue to work hard on developing more online resources and updating ones from previous years. If students relate to you any confusing details in any assignments, also which I hear they are doing quite loudly, please feel free to have students record specific information about the assignment in question, including the assignment number, and have them email me that information so that I can make corrections. I can’t correct problems of which I am not aware, you see. I know some students have been saying I must be clairvoyant and have eyes in the back of my head, but I would like to squelch those rumors right here and now. I am not clairvoyant.
In addition, I have always offered an abundance of resources to my students, including thorough explanations and directions for all of my assignments. If students want to know how they can improve their grades, or have been absent from class to go on that cruise with their family, then please direct them to these resources. Of course, you may have to explain to them that there will be no extra credit awarded for opening a resource file. So sorry.
Please know that I care very much about all of my students receiving the highest quality college-level instruction I can give based on my 30 years of experience teaching composition and British literature. When I err, it will never be out of a lack of concern for any of my students but more likely born of fatigue, or short-term memory loss. I am pushing 60, you know.
Any confusing details or dates may even be a simple mistake as I must maintain six or seven online course shells, prepare materials for six or seven seated and online classes, and grade multiple assignments for 90 – 100 students each semester. Don’t forget those pesky contractual “other duties as assigned”–two committees (chair of one), attending national conferences, writing press releases, creating promotional material, planning major events, participating in student clubs and events. Oh, I know, I’m just whining now. Some of those things I choose to do so they don’t count.
Sure, I could make it easier on myself, do less and offer fewer opportunities for my students to practice writing, but I am still convinced after all these years that there is only one way students can effectively learn to compose, revise and edit at the level they need to—by doing it. I know it is shocking for some students to hear that they must write essays in a freshman English composition class (plus revise and edit them too), but my hands are tied, I fear…
by my conscience.
Thank you for your time.
The above piece is representative of work (creative non-fiction) that I would welcome for the spring edition of Teach. Write. Submissions are open until March 18.