Interesting post recently from Jesse Stommel that basically takes The Chronicle to task for allowing people to mock students in an open, official section of their website. I have never really been to the “Dear Student” column, and I am glad that I haven’t. Student shaming really isn’t any better than any other form of cyber bullying.
However, I do have another concern about the post, or I guess I should say with some of the responses to the post. When Stommel says “rant up, not down”, he clarifies it later in a comment that probably gets buried in the long list: “I agree that we need to have open discussion about real concerns, but there are better ways to have those conversations than stereotyping, mocking, and belittling.” The point is not to tell instructors to just stop discussing their concerns, but to learn how to discuss them in a productive way without ranting. And if you have to rant, do what most professionals do and keep it private.
A lot of the response that I have seen to the blog post really focus on that “rant up, not down” part. This is where I would be careful – I was at a University in the 90s that had a leadership change that took this approach. While I generally liked the new president that came in, he did go too far into shutting down faculty concerns…. and the students knew it. The campus went from having a fairly challenging learning experience to one that barely pushed us at all.
Education needs to be challenging sometimes. We need to struggle and be pushed at times. When students know they can complain in the right way and get the faculty in trouble, it creates a weird power dynamic. I remember other students plotting how to get their instructors in trouble when they decided an assignment was too hard. For people like me that really wanted to learn, being stuck in a group assignment with these bums was horrible.
The things is, I know that when you put all of the power in the instructor”s court, you usually create a high stakes system where learners become afraid of failing. Failure usually has dire consequences in power imbalanced systems, so cheating is usually rampant and students rarely take chances. They just want to know what exactly they have to do to pass. Sound familiar?
But if you swing the other way, and imbalance the power towards the students, this creates a system that makes the instructors afraid to push and challenge learners. Learning becomes stale and watered down, taught in way that makes everyone happy with their grades. That probably sounds familiar, too.
The reason these two sides sound familiar is because our educational systems often swing like a pendulum between the two. There is always a power imbalance in some direction, causing major issues.
The goal for education should be a fairly balanced share of power for all involved. This balance of power would actually be empowering for all involved. So, please make sure that in reading articles like Stommels (and I agree with his demands that The Chronicle pull the column and apologize) that you don’t advocate for a swing in power that will cause imbalances in education.