Remember the scene in “Mean Girls” where newly-arrived high school student Cady tries to leave in the middle of class to use the restroom?
After being scoffed at by the teacher, a puzzled Cady returns to her seat.
“I’d never lived in a world where adults didn’t trust me,” she said in voiceover.
At times that’s how it’s felt for me as I returned to Orange Coast College last fall after a 35-year break. What kind of alternate universe had I come back to, and in which lot did I park the DeLorean time machine?
In nearly all of the 10 classes I’ve taken since coming back, instructors have dedicated almost the entire first class meeting to laying down not just rules but the dire consequences of breaking them.
These were not idle threats.
I’ve seen several students ejected from class for everything from nodding off to making an explicit comment during a class discussion. More recently, an instructor went so far as to threaten the entire class with the loss of an exam study guide based on the misbehavior of a single student.
Did I enlist in the military without realizing it?
Last semester I was so mortified to show up three minutes late to class that I stopped short of a final sprint to the door, choosing to no-show instead. The pop quiz I missed that day cost me five critical points toward my final grade.
Clearly there had been some serious issues with cheating since the days I first attended community college. As I recall, exams were much more casually administered and attendance was rarely recorded in the early 1980s at OCC.
But there seems to be something more going on here than just cheating. There’s a definite climate of mistrust in students and of their ability to behave as responsible members of a learning community. That’s been kind of disturbing and has me thinking a lot about the chicken or egg factor in this equation.
It reminds me of a playground tour I took of my daughter’s public elementary school. The four blue discs painted on the edge of the sports blacktop perplexed me. They seemed like a deliberate part of a game I wasn’t familiar with.
But as the teacher explained, these were designated “time out” spots.
Faced with daily evidence that they were expected to misbehave, I wondered how many children rose to the occasion. How many children were sent to stand, shamed on a blue disc, where all that missing was the dunce cap?
Fast forward to the college campus. Are educators actually responding to real lapses in code of conduct or do they merely anticipate misbehavior? Is there a significant ratio of students regularly breaking the rules or are they as a group intentionally or unconsciously meeting the expectation of misbehavior?
These are the questions that plague my mind as I hear professors calling out students for their inattention, usually for being distracted by our ubiquitous devices. But this, as I can attest, is as much a problem in the business meeting room as it is in a classroom.
If memory serves, none of this occurred during my first stint at OCC.
I come from another generation. In my perhaps idyllic vision, I would see these sometimes severe correction efforts replaced with an expectation of students to behave responsibly, to be polite in public, with manners and common courtesy.
Let the students rise to that occasion instead and start it much earlier, in a world without blue discs.