Sunday, July 31, 2016

On commiserating versus punching down

So our blog has been accused, not for the first time, of "punching down."

Are we guilty? 

I'm going to say no, we're not. And here's why. 

Looking through our history,  I can't find a single example of anyone here "giggling at the fat girl during recess." We don't poke fun at students' physical appearance, disability, financial situation, or even plain ignorance.

Fancy ignorance, now that's another story. 

Stubborn, unrepentant, self-absorbed, evidence-resistant, snowflakey ignorance is what we deplore. Especially when it's enabled by knavish administrators, hamfisted trustees, cool-prof colleagues, ed-tech hucksters, and pushy parents. 

Rampant snowflakery erodes trust, squashes morale, and forces us to construct syllabi the size of mortgage applications. We may not be able to fix it straightaway, but at least we can call it out. 


  1. Yes, call it out. I think it's been said before here as "if it's little, we're going to call it little." I believe the double entendre was intended to reference small-minded behavior, a correctable trait, but decidedly NOT physical traits over which students, colleagues, admins etc. have no control.

    This subject has generated much good commentary. A small anthology, arranged chronologically:

    Dear Chronicle: Why I Will No Longer Write for Vitae
    (smug alert: this is not a regular contributor)

    Do not read this article that I'm not linking to
    (CM responds to the above link)

    I Just Feel So Baffled and Blue About Jesse Stommel.
    (we continue to respond, and the socks come out to play)

    Dear Dr. Stommel. Fuck You.
    (the gift that keeps giving)

    Venting About Students: Punching Up or Down?
    (at IHE, but lots of CM regulars commenting)

    Venting About Students: Punching Up or Down? From Inside Higher Ed.
    (CM responds; Frankie already linked this in her OP)

    On Compassion and Public Shaming: In Support of Jesse Stommel
    (well, clearly, everyone here is wrong)

    "On Compassion and Public Shaming: In Support of Jesse Stommel." By Steven L. Berg. Where Burnt Chrome Gets a Shoutout!
    (or maybe we're not wrong after all)

    1. This was the one that finally set me off:
      A tweet giving his thoughts about classroom laptop policies.
      All of his holier-than-thou self righteousness wrapped up in one tweet.
      (Also, it gives some context for me telling him to fuck off.)

    2. OPH, this is the authoritative anthology of what is now widely referred to as The Stommel Affair. You've saved future digital historians an afternoon doing their literature search for them.

    3. I do note that the collection is far from complete with respect to either The Stommel Affair or our rebuttal to accusations of "punching down". As to the former, Pat has linked to another episode (A tweet giving his thoughts about classroom laptop policies), and the interested reader is also encouraged to start at Ben's post of 28 Feb 2015 (Do not read this article that I'm not linking to) and to work your way through every newer post through 17 March, 2015 (No Fair Looking It Up. New Game.)

      On these pages we have many times defended CM's "right to be" against our detractors. To compile a list of such posts would require a bit of time, but one made an impression (thus I knew how to quickly find it) inasmuch as the complainant(s) had tracked us across the internet to another blog: omebody sent us electronic mail!  L'Affaire Stommel brought out several detractors at the same time, some of whom were (eventually) able to appreciate the difference between what they were accusing us of, and what we were actually doing, far better than JS or h_p have ever made apparent.

      Oh, Pat, FYI, you were namechecked here: Laptop Policies: a #digped Discussion

    4. /sarcasm on/
      Oh, goody! I'm officially part of the Stommelverse canon! Yay!
      /sarcasm off/

      I've been (real-) namechecked by much, much better, including Carl Bialik when he still worked for The Wall Street Journal.

      I don't know this man, but he just sets off such a visceral response in me. I'm sure he's an extremely nice person, but his snowflakey attitude is the exact thing my department colleagues and I are fighting against here at CCSOD, especially in the basic skills maths.

    5. Since these exchanges took place, I have not exactly met JS, but been in the same room with him, while he presented on a panel. As with many people, he seems a bit less extreme, and more reasonable/human, in person. He has also changed jobs, and I suspect he's in a better, more congenial place professionally (a teaching-oriented college). All the same, one of the other panelists -- who was also enthusiastically describing hir student-centered pedagogy -- did push back a bit, gently but firmly, on his "the students; it's all about loving the students" routine (it turns out that student-centered learning requires accurately anticipating all the various ways in which the students will go astray, be uncooperative, etc., etc., to avoid the students who both understand what's going on and are doing the work being held back by those who are confused and/or not fully participating for other reasons. The other proffie's presentation took that as a given, while still being enthusiastic about what many students, in the right conditions, can do. That, I think, is the nub -- as EC1 points out below at some point being endlessly supportive, sympathetic, etc. to all the students is not fair to those students, let alone the student body as a whole.)

  2. More than anything, we punch (metaphorically, as far as I know) against students whose attitude is inconsistent with the traditional view of what students should be doing in college. Given the importance that society places on getting a college degree and their financial support which most of us rely on, it's not improper to vilify students who take an education offered to them and piss all over it.

    1. I think we also punch at dysfunctional systems and the cogs within them who perpetuate, rather than work to ameliorate, that dysfunction. All the way up to the elected "leaders" if need be.

    2. Agreed. And let me say, this post's biohazard snowflake graphic is one of the best around.

    3. It is Frankie's own graphic!!!!

    4. That may explain why it's good in a good way, not shitty in a good way.

  3. Institutional research at my joint suggested that our students fall into 2 categories: those that want to graduate on time with a minimum of trouble, and those that have a clear post-graduation aim. Stommel and his ilk only appear to be equipped to help the first bunch.

    For students who want to use their qualification meaningfully, or who are in the “just let me graduate” group but want to move to the more focused one, yes, it is sometimes necessary to push them, to call them out on their BS, and to hold them accountable for their actions. Far from punching down, this is more like giving students the chance to better their lot.

    Ultimately, college is a lot like a gym membership. You pay for it whether you show up or not. The ones who benefit, though, are the ones who make good use of it.

  4. Has anyone else had this entirely insane thought, if only fleetingly: If nothing else, the election of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named would at least force us to really fight for all these things we believe in. I mean REALLY fight, in a life or death kinda way. Right now, I wonder every day what the hell I'm doing with my life--teaching students who don't want to be taught, doing research and writing stuff that I DO believe in, but which the process of which is so hard and painful in relation to how my "deliverables" are valued by our culture. A Drumpf presidency would give my life a single-minded, passionate, burning purpose. This is not to say that I won't do everything I can to stop this from happening, but...does anyone know what I mean?

    1. I know what you mean, but I've already been really fighting. I would love the luxury of doing just that (and getting paid for it) and not everything else that must be done, too. A few more straws on this camel's back, and I'm out. Obviously I don't know what the fuck I'm doing, and they know better, so, they can have it.

    2. I'm not sure what to think. It seems to me that ELS has a point in the post immediately above: those of us in higher ed may be at least partly to blame. To throw stones at my own glass house, composition pedagogy has stressed having an argument (often of the pro/con should/shouldn't kind) above all, and has allowed, if not encouraged, students to read sources superficially at best, mining them for a few quotations to support a pre-determined argument. One bit of counterevidence for that theory is that the Republican candidate reportedly does best among the non-college-educated, but I'm pretty sure that the people reporting and writing for a certain frighteningly popular "fair and balanced" TV network, not to mention many of the radio shock jocks, are college educated. Apparently we failed to convince them that reality, truth, etc. are complicated.

      I'm also not quite sure what would happen if he were elected. I'm sure he'd plan a hell of coronation, er, inauguration, but I can't imagine him having much patience with the details of governing, or even taking much interest in basic stuff like, say, appointing a cabinet(not all about him = boring). I suspect that would fall to de facto President Pence, albeit with frequent eruptions of chaos proceeding from the actual chief executive.

      The real question, I suspect, is whether the combination of chaos and gridlock caused by fights with Congress, the judiciary, the military and intelligence sectors to the extent they could manage to resist (the concepts of lawful orders and other applicable restrictions imposed by the constitution, international law, etc., would undoubtedly have to be invoked on a regular basis) would simply result in gridlock even worse than we've had recently (which, remember, means, among other things, no budget, which has a way of bringing things to a standstill) and a failing economy, or whether he'd manage to get us into additional wars (or start a nuclear exchange -- perhaps the scariest possibility, but also one with a rather quick and complete endpoint).

      I'm not really sure what college professors could do to stop/resist any of the above. Obviously we could protest, along with other right-minded people, but I suspect the civil/human rights and constitutional lawyers would be busiest of all (hey; the current president could re-up his license and join the fray; that would be interesting; on the other hand, like others with alternative citizenship options, he might consider emigrating).

    3. My best guess is that the most immediate effect on all of us is that there would be even less money to pay us (and quite possibly even less money for our students to pay tuition) than there is now, which might well mean that we'd be too busy scrambling to pay our bills/find work to do much else. It's also a pretty good bet that the flow of foreign students on which many of our institutions now depend for revenue would slow considerably (and that our first-generation American students, if not threatened with deportation themselves, would be concerned about family members, making plans to take care of younger siblings, cousins, etc., etc. in case their parents were deported, and even more distracted than many of them are now). I suppose we could run safehouses or sanctuaries or something, but that's assuming he could make the orders stick (and hire enough qualified people willing to carry them out, and build the detention centers -- well, he is fairly good at building things, but maybe less so if much of the labor has to come from the same population he's trying to eliminate).

      There's also the problem of fighting (with) a narcissist (something with which I've had a bit of experience, mostly second-hand): it can't be done, because every time you come up with a coherent response to whatever they last insisted was the key issue in the debate, they simply change focus, premises, terms, etc., etc., without the slightest recognition that they've done so. It's exhausting, and, as long as the narcissist holds even a modicum of power in the situation, devastatingly effective.