Earlier this week I posted a story from the Chronicle of Higher Education about a man who writes papers for students; students who either have no desire or no ability to write papers, cheap and have several hundred (or thousand) dollars to spend on hiring a professional paper writer.
Today I am reading about another case of cheating, this time in Florida, where 200 of 600 students cheated on an exam. All 600 students have to re-write the exam as a result. The professor is offering academic amnesty (i.e. no punitive repercussions) for those students who confess and agree to take an ethics course.
Nathan Gilmour, over at Christian Humanist, looks at both situations and the state of education in general. He writes:
I still believe that higher education exists not for its own sake but for the sake of a larger community. That particular sort of benefit has at its root a set of aristocratic assumptions, namely that some human beings have over the years acquired a real and intelligible range of human goods alternately called wisdom, expertise, and learning; and that inherent inequality between teacher and student can and should have the erotic force (in the old Platonic sense) to draw students upward, inspiring them to emulate those professors whom they admire and to supplant those whom they despise…
My own working assumption, the assumption of aristocracy, is that students must rise in their relationships to their teachers, not assume a prior and all-consuming equality, and to cheat within this context is to betray the institution and the larger community. The open secret is that every professor worth anything at all longs for the day when student supplants teacher, taking the future of the community in directions that the teacher is incapable of imagining. But a system corrupted by widespread cheating stands to ruin all chances of anything like that happening.
Is education a democracy? Are students and teachers equal in the classroom?
I admit that I struggle with this. The seminary where I’m taking classes has small class sizes, which is great. But because we all live, work and study in the same small college town, there is an informality and equality that I find hard to navigate.
I sit under these professors. I am paying to learn from them and to be challenged in my theological and biblical assumptions. They are the experts in their fields, and deserve respect and a degree of deference. A sign of respect that I can use is to call them by their title, “Dr. so-and-so.”
And yet, the informality of the community has us all on a first-name basis. One of my professors (and his family) is a friend of my family. We semi-regularly have family dinners together. In the informal setting I can call him by his first name. But once I’m in the classroom, I can’t do it. I know that some teachers say, “Just call me so-and-so” but I can’t.
Professors and students may worship together on Sundays, together as equals. They may be neighbours and friends. They may do extra-curricular activities together. But in the classroom, there is, for me, a clear demarcation of roles. I am the student. They are the teacher. I am not the expert. I am the one who is called to sit at their feet and learn from their wisdom. They are called to teach and guide and utilize their wisdom to challenge and grow us.