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Horror Stories from the Ivory Tower.

Scorpio Sphinx Vignettes 1-25-05

By Freddie A. Bowles
Posted from Fayetteville, Arkansas

A new transfer student, a close relative to a fellow Ph.D candidate, visited the university on the mountain yesterday. She called on us at the GA (Graduate Assistant) office and offered two vignettes from her first day of classes.

Vignette One.

In her advanced composition class, she overheard this brief exchange between two seatmates. One discreetly asked if the other had a piece of chewing gum. The other simply replied, "Yes," and handed over the gum. The instructor proceeded to berate the two students for their lack of attention and ordered them to leave the class. Overreaction? Yes. Aggressive and extreme behavior on the instructor's part? Also a yes. How can our students learn to handle delicate, uncomfortable situations if their elders and leaders (members of the professorial class) react so immoderately?

Vignette Two.

Transfer student must take a drama class. The instructor requires that her students read 22 plays and warns them that if they are not prepared to discuss each play intelligently, they will be dropped immediately. No negotiation.

I am appalled that some of my peers, colleagues and betters (and not solely at this university, but at my previous place of employment as well) conduct their classrooms as if they were the sole arbiter and exclusive owner of information. They allow no quarter for misstep within their draconian domain. Has the kicking shoe ever been on the other foot? Do not such rigid standards hamper the learning environment? Would a professor akin to the types described in our vignettes even care?

Break a rule, you are out. Commit a minor faux pas, begone. Does life work that way? Should a classroom instructor enforce standards that do not reflect the culture that permits the classroom to exist?

Totalitarianism, or Democracy?

Ah, but we remind ourselves that the ivory tower rises high above the campus veld to promote creativity and innovative ideas. We remind ourselves. The two vignettes shared by our visitor exemplify behaviors associated with a totalitarian regime, not a democracy. I maintain that effective education is best raised on the traditional liberal principles of egalitarian democracy.

I began as a liberal arts major, English and Foreign Languages, and continued to teach in that arena until I returned to school as a fellow in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction housed in the College of Education and Health Professions. It is an innovative field whose practitioners continually explore ways to better educate all students. It is grounded in theories of learning and instruction, cognitive development, and developmental psychology. As teachers and as teachers of teachers we seek to understand how we learn. We search for better ways to clarify the means of achieving that goal.

When I listen to stories from students about the overbearing strictures they must endure in other disciplines, I cringe because I realize that they are being abused and have willingly paid at high price to the tuition purser for that abuse. It is unfair, undemocratic, and anti-epistemological.

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