There's a curious story in Inside Higher Ed today about Laurence Thomas, a philosophy professor at Syracuse University who ends class and walks out if he sees a student texting. He recently followed one such exit with an e-mail to administrators and his students, expressing his frustration with the lack of respect his students give him. And then he said something more: "he noted that the student who sent the text message is Cuban, and that last year, two Latino students had started to play tic-tac-toe during his class."
But Professor Thomas is no cranky, backwards white guy:
While Thomas noted that white students are also rude, he expressed frustration that — especially as a minority scholar himself — he would be treated in this way. "One might have thought that for all the talk about racism and the good of social equality, non-white students would be particularly committed to respecting a black professor," Thomas wrote.In his e-mail, Thomas went on to describe himself as a believer "in principles of right and wrong that transcend every race/ethnicity and sexual identity."
There are at least two problems here. One: if Thomas believes in principles that transcend differences of color and ethnicity, the ethnicity of his texting and tic-tac-toe-playing students should be irrelevant. Two: a professorial practice that holds all students responsible for the actions of one is unreasonable. If I were a serious student in Professor Thomas' class, I'd find the texting and tic-tac-toe (tic-tac-toe!) ridiculous. But I'd also find Professor Thomas' dramatic exits insulting and alienating, and far more troubling that my classmates' cluelessness.
A simpler strategy when a someone is texting in class: ask the offending student to put away the phone. If it happens again, ask the student to leave. And if a cellphone rings in class, do what I do: groove to the music for ten seconds or so, head bobbing, fingers snapping — it's always music, never a ring — while the silliness of the situation has a chance to sink in and someone shuts off a phone. And then get back to what you were doing.
Proust and the finger-snapping bit (with Duke Elllington's advice on finger-snapping)