Some professors threaten to confiscate students’ cell phones if they go off during class. Laurence Thomas has his own approach to classroom distractions. If the philosopher at Syracuse University catches a student sending text messages or reading a newspaper in class, he’ll end the class on the spot and walk out. It doesn’t matter if there is but one texter in a large lecture of hundreds of students. If you text, he will leave.
Last week, when a student in a large lecture — in the front row no less — sent a text message, Thomas followed through on his threat (as he had done just a few days earlier). And he then sent the university’s chancellor, his dean, and all of the students an e-mail message explaining his actions and his frustration at the “brazen” disrespect he had received in class. In the e-mail, 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.
Now, I have voluntarily relocated in a class to get away from incessant text-messaging, so I can understand the professor’s perspective. But, as the article goes on to point out, text-messaging is today’s version of note-passing; students today live in a persistent, ubiquitous information environment where instant communication with other parties is the rule rather than the exception.
In a time when e-mail is snail-mail, where land-line telephony does not exist, and where the “dead-tree” media doesn’t have so much as a toe-hold in the media market share game, perhaps it’s time for the professors to quit taking such offence at what is essentially now human nature.