Friday, December 13, 2013

On the hazzing of sads

Silently judging your winter fashion choices.

OK, the riled-ness begins. I was impatient, expecting instantaneous fury. It can take a moment. So:

Some commenters defend teacher overshare on the basis of students who make mistakes deserving to be shamed. Also: students who make the kinds of mistakes that get shared are (apparently? huh?) the ones who don't care about school... which somehow translates to, who wouldn't care about being insulted by their teachers. Never mind how many of these mistakes aren't actual errors having to do with course-related material that's being examined, but random things/terms students themselves bring up without quite understanding. No! say these commenters (sometimes in all-caps). Being mocked by your teachers builds character!

More broadly, they're saying that to be hurt when insulted is to show weakness. If this were just a few commenters in one place once, whatever, but this is, in a sense, true of much online activity, from Gawker (well, the old Gawker) to the Petey comments here. The what-was-once-called-blogosphere seems split (somewhat but not entirely along gender lines) between hyper-earnestness and a kind of snark absolutism, where the greatest good is showing that one's feathers can't be ruffled. (Haz a sad, tiny violins, etc.)

It seems as though it should be possible to say that gratuitous hurt shouldn't be inflicted, without this in any way contradicting additional advice on what to do if you find that, say, your teacher has mocked you on Facebook. Yes, as life advice, 'choose your battles' is a classic, as is 'never let them see you sweat.' Unless you're going to go the full-on Outrage approach and all-out flip a snark conversation into an earnestness one, whatever it is, you have to laugh it off. (Are there any more clichés I might summon to address this?) Decompensation is generally a bad idea. That doesn't mean the initial nastiness was justified.

What strikes me in this case is that it's just so obvious nothing positive comes of knowing your teacher is laughing at you. Do you, the naive 18-year-old, suddenly become a well-read, world-weary 45-year-old? We can have a reasonable conversation about a certain amount of setbacks in youth - those early days of finding one's own friends, and the quasi-bullying that goes with that life stage - building character. Or about whether whichever newfangled whosawhatsit (grade inflation, hand-holding, the proverbial everyone-gets-a-medal) is perhaps detrimental to whichever pedagogical aims. There are times when the hazzing of a sad serves some larger purpose. But what aim is addressed by teachers acting unprofessionally?


Petey said...

"More broadly, they're saying that to be hurt when insulted is to show weakness. If this were just a few commenters in one place once, whatever, but this is, in a sense, true of much online activity, from Gawker (well, the old Gawker) to the Petey comments here."

Good god, if my snark here is making you feel insulted rather than making you feel vaguely amused, I'm doing it wrong.

Also, FWIW, I thought your Teachers Making Fun of Students post was inarguable to the point of saying that the earth is round. Obviously these teachers are violating basic ethics. There isn't even a vaguely plausible, (if wrong), opposite side to argue, as with parental overshare.

Finally, as a general rule, don't take blog comments seriously. They are almost always a cesspool with a high noise to signal ratio, especially at mass comment sites. (Things can be significantly better at a low-traffic, semi-moderated site like this, but not if a prolific commenter is getting his snark/earnestness balance wrong for the occasion.)

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

What I was remarking on is something found in some of your comments, some of the ones I just got, and some posts/articles themselves: a kind of snark that sets up 'you take everything too seriously' or 'your skin is too thin.' It's about making one's interlocutor feel... not exactly sad, but that they're walking on eggshells, but for no particular reason, other than to be clever. This approach *can* be clever, but often isn't... but if its lack of cleverness is pointed out, it's clearly just that the interlocutor is oversensitive or (if it's not the interlocutor being discussed, but some separate topic) over-earnest.

As for the obviousness of my message in the piece, ideally it would be, but I very well understand why it's not. It's easy to be in the mode of sharing funny-things-overheard, which, if no one is identifiable, and there's no relationship between the person posting and the one quoted anonymously, is fairly harmless. Meanwhile teachers have long been sharing these stories, offline, without naming the students in question. It's a simple leap to make if you're not really thinking about it.

And my impression is, lots of teachers who are really invested in teaching do this, not out of any bad feeling, but because they're genuinely fascinated by how students' minds work. They're thinking about the classroom even in their spare time, which can't be said of everyone who teaches.

james said...

i agree with you that it's pretty much pathetic when teachers post stuff about their students to get a har-har on the internet with no concern for how it affects their students. i'm also pretty much on board with what you're saying in terms of there being a particularly damaging publicness to posting it on the web that's not equatable to the teachers blowing off steam that's been happening in every teacher's lounge since the profession began.

but i guess i'm not clear on what solution is to be had, when it seems like the fundamental problem is not the technology of public exposure but the impulse to expose. should there be heightened surveillance of teachers' or parents' social media usage, or any social media where children are concerned? are we to shame the teachers and parents who want to share and create in them a sense of self-surveillance and -discipline so that they are always checking to see if what they post could hurt their students? does the solution lie in some law of procuring consent for every instance of public representation so that the represented person should ultimately have the right to say yes/no to being exposed? and what about self-exposure and self-humiliation, or exposure of other children by their peers? i think there are definitely cases that are straight forwardly shitty and abuses of power by teachers and parents but i'm genuinely not sure how we can do anything about the underlying 'nastiness' as you put it, while also not creating MORE public shaming, even defensive public shaming, in response.

i think the problem is also something really bigger which is who is to speak for children and how are they to speak for themselves? these cases of overshare are really symptoms i think of the lack of rights for children in general

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


I think you're making this more complicated than it needs to be. The problem, as it stands, isn't that teachers who do this are aware it's discouraged but do it anyway. It's that there isn't anything immediately obvious wrong with it. Particularly for teachers who aren't well-versed in social media, and who are under the false - implicit - impression that what they post is only ever read by the three good real-life friends who regularly comment. There aren't clear guidelines, this isn't (from what I can tell) a violation of FERPA, so many teachers are posting without any sense that they're doing anything problematic.

All that needs to happen is for someone - the school, the department, the profession in some more general sense, (or a freelancer coming out of academia) - to step in and point out that postings like these should stop. Probably some teachers would go on doing this, but my guess is that most just stop once the reasons-against have been pointed out to them, even without any explicit threat of or-else.

I mean, there might have to be some punishment if a particular teacher goes on doing this after clear guidelines are in place. But the idea isn't to shame the teachers currently doing this. It's to advise them to stop.

james said...

"making things more complicated" okay, guilty as charged. if it's not that complicated, then your point is a commonplace moral one: let the teachers know there are consequences to their nastiness even if unintended. i agree with petey that it's inarguable and ultimately (in my view) a conservative argument for moral civility. in which case, the 'outrage' that should be expected is just an argument among conservatives about the finer points of politeness

caryatis said...

So Phoebe, just to clarify, "stop" means stop posting things where the general public can see them? Because it's hard to believe that teachers would ever stop this sort of snarking in private spaces like Facebook.

I also wonder how far you would extend this argument from presumed relationships of trust to others--like making fun of bad dates.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


The trouble with discussing online privacy is, there's a lot of middle-ground between there-oughta-be-a-law and the sort of things where you may want to think twice. Re: teachers and students, there's a spectrum, from a public posting that names and insults a student to emails between teachers that don't name a student and are in more of a kids-say-the-darndest-things spirit. Which is why I say there should be guidelines. Advice. The "law" bit should cover the extreme cases, and more or less already does.

I wouldn't call Facebook "private," though. Lots of people don't think about privacy settings, and just kind of assume no one beyond their friends would be interested. And the settings themselves sometimes change unexpectedly. But even if you're sharing only with "friends," that may still be hundreds or thousands of people, and you never know who turns out to know the student in question. Yes, there are list functions, but given how many feed updates I get from people whose inner circle I'm definitely not in, my sense is, not everyone's doing this. I know I'm not, and am also not posting anything I'd mind being entirely public. (I don't have it entirely public because there's a good amount that would be more likely to bore those who don't know me than there is, as far as I can tell, on WWPD.)

And re: other forms of sharing, like of bad dates... Dan Savage addressed this once, actually - pointing out that if it's a known thing that you blog (or whatever) about your dates, this impacts who'll go out with you. It's not a "trust" relationship like student-teacher, but depending the size of whichever dating pool, you may be not only insulting someone else but also limiting your own options.

caryatis said...

The fact that there is this kind of spectrum, though, makes it harder to make your point. I mean, the impulse to amuse your friends with an entertaining post is a strong one, and where there are no definite rules, it's easy to cross the line.

...Hence why I try not to use my name online.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't see how there being a spectrum, and some ambiguity, is a problem for what I'm trying to convey. In so many cases, X should be/is illegal, and some lesser version of X is just a bad idea. 'Don't put stuff about your students on Facebook' seems a straightforward enough guideline. Yes, some may do so even if told not to, but far more will if they've never even thought about it.

caryatis said...

But Facebook is private if you use privacy settings and don't have thousands of friends. So even that isn't a sufficiently precise rule. I mean, the internet is a pretty big part of our social lives now. It's unrealistic to keep all complaints off social networks.

On the other hand, editing out students' names seems like a good hard-and-fast rule. But people usually do so, anyway, don't you think?