We’re so quick to bemoan the lack of ethics in our students. They cheat. They copy. They take shortcuts on the work. We complain incessantly about their work ethic, their commitment to their classwork and homework, and their failure to find interest or meaning in the learning tasks we put before them.
Lost in these laments is any recognition that a vast amount of what we ask our students to do in school is indeed actually meaningless. From a life success standpoint. From a future relevance standpoint. From a ‘you can look this up in Google in 3 seconds so why I am spending days on this?’ standpoint. From a ‘why on earth would a [x]-year-old care about this at all?’ standpoint.
1. If we repeatedly put meaningless work in front of students – and, in turn, they repeatedly do whatever it takes to get that work out of the way as quickly as possible so they can get back to something more meaningful in their lives – whose ‘integrity’ is the real concern?
2. If our responses to the first question are along the lines of ‘we know better than they do what they need’ or ‘there are things students have to learn in this class (and that might mean we have to force students to do them),’ is that a sign of… [select all that apply]
a) our keen judgment and ultimate wisdom as educators?
b) our arrogance?
c) our need for control?
d) our unwillingness to let children actually own their learning?
e) our complicity in the district, state, federal, and corporate curriculum / assessment machinery?
f) our own helplessness as educators?
g) something else?
Those in glass houses should not throw stones. – European proverb
Great marketing [or forced compliance] won’t be enough to boost sales of your junk product. – Seth Godin
Meaning is in the eye of the beholder.
Image credit: Scolding, Louis Ressel
Lindy West reports:
the anti-free-speech charge, applied broadly to cultural criticism and especially to feminist discourse, has proliferated. It is nurtured largely by men on the internet who used to nurse their grievances alone, in disparate, insular communities around the web — men’s rights forums, video game blogs. Gradually, these communities have drifted together into one great aggrieved, misogynist gyre and bonded over a common interest: pretending to care about freedom of speech so they can feel self-righteous while harassing marginalized people for having opinions.
At the online video conference VidCon a couple of weeks ago, the feminist cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian took the stage for a panel on women’s experiences online, only to find the first two rows of seats stacked with her online harassers, leering up at her, filming her on their phones.
Ms. Sarkeesian has been relentlessly stalked, abused and threatened since 2012, when she started a Kickstarter campaign to fund a series of YouTube videos critiquing the representation of women in video games.
In retaliation, men have threatened to rape and murder her, dug up and disseminated her personal contact information, called in mass shooting threats to her public events and turned their obsession with shutting her up into a competitive sport. All of this, they insist, is in defense of freedom of speech
And there’s GamerGate:
many people will still try to tell you that ethics in game journalism are all Gamergate’s really about.
The problem with that argument is that Gamergate’s biggest “protests” don’t appear to have any relation to ethics or journalism — not even a tangential one. Instead, anonymous hackers posted Quinn’s personal information, including her address and nude pictures, shortly after her ex’s blog went up. Conspirators on Twitter purportedly made sock puppet accounts to spread the “scandal,” then bragged about it on 4chan. Some of the people sent Quinn death and rape threats so specific, so actionable, that she fled her house and called the cops.
Meanwhile, the male journalist whose ethics were (purportedly) at the center of the whole kerfuffle is still writing for Kotaku — which, for the record, ruled that neither he nor Quinn did anything wrong.
Initially, the “movement” appeared to be about Quinn — or at least about what she represented to a band of angry, anonymous gamers. But within days, Gamergaters had also attacked Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist writer and media critic, after she posted a new video in her ongoing series about women and gaming. She, like Quinn, was forced to leave her home.
Shortly after that, two other women who wrote about Quinn and Sarkeesian — Jenn Frank, a gaming journalist, and Mattie Brice, a game designer — announced that they would withdraw from the industry over the resulting harassment they received. Frank articulated the real issues at hand in her essay for the Guardian, which would later get her bullied offline: Gamergate, she wrote, is less about ethics, and more about drowning out critics of traditional, patriarchal, dude-dominated gaming culture.
For the record, the “drowning,” in this instance, wasn’t just run-of-the-mill Internet nastiness. In many cases, these women received highly graphic, disturbing threats — the stuff of “SVU” episodes. And in a few cases, anonymous Twitter trolls went so far as to include the woman’s address or an exact time of attack, making the message a “true,” i.e. criminally punishable, threat.
And there’s our own Audrey Watters:
some of the posts I’ve written have resulted in some pretty awful comment threads. When I write critically about Khan Academy or Apple, I know I’ll hear an earful — and it isn’t simply an earful of disagreement. The comments get incredibly hostile, the attacks personal.
And there’s the ongoing problem of female harassment in technology companies:
a string of revelations about how venture capitalists have mistreated women entrepreneurs over the years, an issue that was in the past largely swept under the carpet. The disclosures gained momentum after the implosion last month of a small venture firm, Binary Capital, whose partner, Justin Caldbeck, apologized to women after several spoke on the record about his behavior. . . . more than two dozen female entrepreneurs who described unwanted advances, touching and sexist comments by investors. . . . some venture capital firms are privately grumbling about having to deal with the issue, said some investors. “Some men have the feeling that the conversation has turned into a witch hunt,” said Aileen Lee, a founder of Cowboy Ventures. “They’re asking when people will stop being outed.”
And much, much more… It’s incredibly dismaying. And frightening.
It’s easy to dismiss these incidents as concerns that occur outside of school. But we ‘educated’ these men. And as much as I’m a speech advocate, I think we bear at least some responsibility. We can be for free speech and also stand against hate. So here are some questions worth pondering:
- As digital tools and online communities continue to proliferate, what are our schools doing to have conversations with our boys – particularly the older ones – about the fact that these behaviors constitute misogyny, hate, and sexual intimidation?
- How are our secondary schools fostering meaningful discussions with our young men about online respect, digital citizenship, and face-to-face treatment of girls and women that result in actual conversations and reflection, not just trite slogans, hectoring, and finger-wagging from adults?
- Does anyone think that their school is doing a good job of having these discussions with its young men? If so, what are you doing?
- How do we start stemming this ongoing problem of men behaving badly? (see some ideas from danah boyd)
A teacher wrote to a parent:
William had several hours to complete an assignment but chose not to. He will be sent to the room of opportunity for 90 minutes tomorrow to complete it. If he chooses not to finish it, it will be a zero. Not the best way to start the semester…
Messages like this occur every day in schools: You chose to get a bad grade. You chose to be punished. You chose to be separated from your peers. Alfie Kohn reminds us that this is a ‘fundamentally dishonest, not to mention manipulative, attribution [whereby] … children are told, in effect, that they wanted to have something bad happen to them.’
There is no way that we can justify these ‘obey or suffer’ messages under the guise of ‘student choice.’ The only choice that William has here is to 1) do what the teacher wants, or 2) be punished. Neither is something he would freely choose on his own. The teacher’s language is a threat that hides under the cover of student free will and it is disingenuous (Kohn calls it a ‘pseudochoice’). If we are going to exercise our power and authority over students and force them to do our will, we should at least be honest about it.
Here’s how I might rephrase this teacher’s message:
William didn’t want to do something that I asked him to do, likely because he found it meaningless and boring. Rather than working with William to find a learning project that better aligns with his talents and interests, I am instead going to try and force William to do the perceived-as-worthless task by isolating him from his friends and peers. If social isolation doesn’t work, I am going to punish him further and will continue to do so until he modifies his behavior and is compliant with my wishes. I am letting you know so that you hopefully will help me vanquish his resistance.
Of course this message is much more difficult to send to a parent. Thus the masking language…
What are your thoughts on William’s ‘choice’ and the ‘room of opportunity?’
I saw this poster recently in a middle school. And I confess it struck me the wrong way…
Do we really want to send the message to young adolescents that character is nonrecoverable, lost with a single mistake? Or do we want to send messages about learning from mistakes – even really bad ones – and personal growth? I think the latter…
Is your school a place that believes in student redemption? Do your youth have some leeway to make academic, behavioral, and ethical mistakes and then grow and recover from them? If so, how much? Where do you draw the line between ‘once labeled, always labeled’ and an opportunity for redemption? How do you decide that they made some mistakes but that they still are worth the effort?
How about for employees? Do your educators have some leeway to make professional, behavioral, and ethical mistakes and then grow and recover from them? If so, how much? Where do you draw the line between a firing / non-hiring offense and an opportunity for redemption? How do you decide that they made some mistakes but that they still have worthwhile value to contribute?
How forgiving are our educational systems, for either students or staff? Your thoughts?
[UPDATE: The high school principal is now threatening to suspend students who protest this situation. Never mind that the administrators’ decisions are arguably illegal for many of the suspended students. And apparently also never mind the First Amendment and students’ Constitutionally-protected speech rights. The quote from the Supreme Court at the bottom of this post? It’s worth reading again…]
If a student calls a teacher a MILF on Twitter, should he be suspended? If other students retweet his tweet – or give it a thumbs up – should they be suspended? The school administrators at Granite City High School in Granite City, Illinois think so. They’ve suspended multiple students for 5 to 10 days apiece (the longer suspensions were related to a student’s tweet that she should blow up the school so that she wouldn’t have to attend).
Unsurprisingly, online reactions have been quick and fierce (as has been the conversation on Facebook). Here are a few tweets since the suspensions:
Courts have ruled that there is no First Amendment protection for speech that constitutes a ‘true threat.’ When a student says that she should blow up the school so that she doesn’t have to go, is her speech a ‘true threat?’ Arguable at best, but it’s hard to say without knowing more. But when her classmates forward that on, is that worth a suspension? Or maybe just a conversation?
Courts have consistently upheld students’ rights to have personal opinions. And they have repeatedly affirmed students’ rights to express themselves off campus as long as it doesn’t cause a ‘material and substantial disruption’ at school. And they have stated that for many controversies – for example, defamation (i.e., ‘you ruined my reputation’) – public schools should not insert themselves into what essentially are private lawsuits between individuals. So when a student says that his teacher is physically and/or sexually attractive, is that worth a suspension? Or maybe just a conversation? And when his classmates forward it along because they agree and/or think it’s funny, is that worth a suspension? Or maybe just a conversation?
The Granite City High student handbook says that inappropriate language/behavior includes ‘disrespect to a staff member off campus.’ But who defines this? And how much leeway do we give them? And is saying that a teacher is ‘hot’ even disrespectful? Students say every day that teachers suck, are terrible, are fat, are ugly, or whatever. Does that mean that they all should be suspended? And when kids write or say these things at home – electronically or vocally – do we want schools to have the right to reach that far into our neighborhoods, our homes, and our children’s lives?
Just because a school has a rule doesn’t mean it’s legal. School rules get overturned for illegality all the time. But of even greater concern are the messages that we send our students. As the Supreme Court said in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette:
That [schools] are educating the young for citizenship is reason for scrupulous protection of Constitutional freedoms of the individual, if we are not to strangle the free mind at its source and teach youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes.
What lessons do you think these Illinois students are learning about the law, personal responsibility, power, ethics, adult arbitrariness, and/or schools’ responsibility to uphold children’s legal rights?