Strategies for Keeping Warm in the Classroom

Strategies for Keeping Warm in the Classroom

It has happened to all of us. It has happened to someone who someone you know heard about from someone else: a perfectly competent professor disciplined for saying something totally innocuous in class after being reported to the administration by oversensitive students.

We talked about this a bit here. In “Professors Running Scared? A less dramatic rendering of professor-student relations today,” a piece in Psychology Today, Jennifer Baker (Charleston) takes a look at this phenomenon. She notes the bemusement with which students tweet about the outrageous things their philosophy professors say, skillfully collected by @myphilprof, and writes:

The tweets are helpfully set against what seems to be a theme in the opinion piece business lately (how do they coordinate their topics?): “faculty fear their students!” “Young people are out of control… with their sensitivities!” Professors have written that their colleagues stay up at night, afraid of how their students might react if they say something offensive in class! (If you think I am exaggerating, read here.) This professor says he can’t even teach certain issues, like abortion, because of students today. His self-report is here.

Us philosophy professors, of course, teach abortion ethics all the time… If you think there’s something fishy going on, given these two accounts aren’t compatible, I agree.

You can read the rest of her piece here.

Relatedly, if you’re not following @JadedPhD on Twitter, you’ve been missing out on some gems:

Ok, ok. Let’s suppose there is a real problem here with student-motivated “persecution” of faculty. How should faculty deal with this fear they have? One way is by not talking about potentially offensive topics. That is, as everyone agrees, a bad idea. So forget that. Let’s also leave aside “trigger warnings,” further discussion of which in the philosophy blogosphere might trigger a mass exodus of readers. Let’s instead talk about what we can do in the classroom, how to approach controversial topics, how to address students you think might be/get offended with what you’re saying, how to be proactive with administrators about potential problems, etc. Given how much controversial and potentially offensive material is unproblematically taught every single day of college (which might speak to how big a problem this really is, if it is one), there must be lots of successful strategies out there. If we share them, perhaps we can assuage the concerns of the more fearful among us.

UPDATE (6/5/15): See “I was a liberal adjunct professor. My liberal students didn’t scare me at all” by Amanda Taub at Vox.

(image: detail of “Sower with Setting Sun after Millet” by Vincent van Gogh)


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