Thursday, February 21, 2013

Confronting Students

Usually I'm a pretty laid-back type teacher.  But this morning I had a confrontation with a student that I feel compelled to write about.  Probably the most common "classroom etiquette" issue is the issue of texting during class.  In the past, if I caught students texting I would gently tell them not to.  But this semester, given the growing rise of this problem, I've made it a classroom policy to give students one warning, and then ask them to leave, because they are disrupting class.  

This morning, a student was openly texting (not even under the desk).  I warned her, telling her to put her phone away.  She said something to the effect of, "What does it matter if it's on my desk or in my purse?"

Something inside me snapped.  This girl has, so far, demonstrated the cavalier and entitled attitude that is so common among Cal State Fullerton students, and this was too much for me to bear.

"Okay, you're done," I said, "You need to leave.  See you Tuesday."  It felt strange to adopt this hard-line attitude.  I could see the awkwardness on the faces of the other students.  What have I done, I thought?  Have I shattered my image of laid-back professor?  Maybe.

But then something else happened.  After class, when students are normally rushing for the door, at least 10 students stayed to ask me questions about their essays.  This was unprecedented at Cal State Fullerton, where a cancelled class is usually a cause for celebration among students.  

I realized something.  In demonstrating to students that I am serious about this whole writing/teaching thing, I encouraged them to do likewise, to take this stuff seriously, because it matters.

I began my next class by telling the story of the previous class, and then launching into an impassioned tirade against the disease of entitlement.  I said something like this:

"Do you know what I mean by 'entitlement'?  It means taking your privileges for granted.  It means treating this whole "higher education thing as just another hoop you have to jump through on your road to a job.  This is a poisonous view, because it will blind you to see, to really see, what's at stake here.  Learning about different perspectives, learning how to research and understand complex ideas, to argue and write and think critically…these are not just things we do to check off a list and move onto the next thing.  This shit matters, because the world outside is real, and it has real problems involving real people, and by taking a cavalier attitude now toward your education, you are crippling yourself, you are denying your own agency and ability to deal with a complex world.  For the love of God, don't cripple yourself.  Please, don't cripple yourself because this world needs you."

And that's why you shouldn't text during class.

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