Last week, I set aside a class period to have student-teacher conferences while the class worked on a three-page article on environmental justice that called on people of color to take action in bettering their environmental conditions.
Unfortunately, a few of my students misread the data-filled article as an attack on white people (??), and thus their responses reflected their animosity towards the perceived slander.
Now, as a teacher of writing, this reaction is worrisome, as it throws out of the window everything I have taught so far this semester: to read carefully and annotate, to summarize the main arguments, and to respond in a reasonable manner, that is, using a claim/thesis, reasons, and evidence. It also shows a complete lack of awareness of the fact that members of their primary audience (their classmates) may find their animosity alarming (as some of them indicated to me during the student-teacher conferences).
As a teacher, I understand that race issues in the United States are and have been hard to understand and discuss, especially since they are so distorted by the media and by politicians. Some professors have even suggested that I steer away from including readings related to race to avoid volatile reactions in the classroom. But I cannot make myself to banish discussions on race issues altogether, as that of which we do not speak just festers, to completely misquote Langston Hughes.
On the other hand, I could not endorse of the postings by these students, as they were not just inaccurate but inappropriate.
So I deleted their links to my class blog.
Of course, that does not mean I will not read their blogs or not grade their blogs as I always do. I saved their blog links to a Google Docs. It also does not mean that I will not counsel them on how to rewrite their blog posts if they wish to do so. I am, after all, a teacher and this is one of those “teachable moments.” (The move was suggested to me by Dr. J, who unlinks his blog from any student who plagiarizes on her/his blog until the student fixes the plagiarism).
Which brings me to the title of this blog post. I remember that Dr. Van Slyck had a similar issue a few semesters ago, but since she was using a centralized system (Ning), she found herself in a conundrum, as the options to distance herself from some of the ill-worded comments were drastically reduced by the fact that Ning (like Blackboard) is a shared space.
I could go on, but at this point I am interested in your views on whether such social “voting” (un/linking to sites, clicking on “like” in Facebook, etc.) is or could be useful as a teaching tool.