Just listened to the Bill Simmons interview with Chris Herren, the subject of the ESPN documentary Unguarded, about Herren’s 10-year addiction and subsequent recovery. I have always found the question of anonymity a fascinating one as it relates to addiction, treatment, and recovery. As we all know, Alcoholics Anonymous stresses the importance of personal anonymity as a core principle of the fellowship. (Traditions 11 and 12: 11) Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films. 12) Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.)
It seems to me that anonymity should be re-examined. The power that a personal testimony of recovery can offer seems to me to be without parallel—and that this testimony can be done without violating12-step principles. Certainly, many A.A. members can talk about their recovery without naming A.A. per se. Even if A.A. is mentioned, however, the value of what can be learned has the potential to be life-saving for people hearing the story—and this may outweigh the potential problems. The risks, of course, are there as well—that the disclosing individual may relapse at some point, that the individual may not be clear that he or she does not speak for A.A., that “celebrity spokespeople” may develop, potentially causing division with the fellowship. All of these are not to be dismissed—but are they enough to keep those in recovery from sharing their experience, strength and hope with those may so badly need to hear the message? I wonder…
Joan Flaherty of the University of Guelph, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, voices the frustration of many of those of us who teach at the college level in her article "Ill Mannered Students Can Wreck More than Your Lecture.” Flaherty identifies the problems that are caused when students engage in the use of cell/smart phones, laptops, Facebook, e-mail, and the Internet in general during class—particularly larger lecture classes like the one I teach.
Flaherty makes several interesting observations from the perspective of the instructor, including:
“Enthusiasm for teaching is hard to sustain when student seldom may eye contact because their heads are bent over their Iphones, believe they can follow the class discussion while updating their Facebook pages, and habitually arrive late, leave early, or don’t show up at all, confident that the day’s material will be posted online and available ‘on demand.’”
“….we can respond by becoming demoralized candidates fro early retirement of by joining the ranks of the perpetually offended. Becoming demoralized, and offended, however never propelled anyone further along the path of creative productivity.”
Strong words--so, what is the solution?
Here are some possibilities:
1) As a wise person once said, “From uncomfortability comes change.” I have had teaching assistants assume responsibility for monitoring these issues from the back of the lecture hall. When students are using their laptops, the TAs appropriately and politely, but directly, ask them to refrain. This is no doubt embarrassing for the students, but perhaps effective.
2) How about engaging in class discussion around the issue? In other words make it a group problem and try to arrive at a consensus about classroom norms. This would be easier, I would think, in a moderately sized class (20-40, let’s say, than in one of 100 or more).
3) Another way to approach this could be to ask teach student who would like to use a digital device in class (a laptop, for example) to meet with the instructor or a teaching assistant to request permission, agree on norms, etc. Time-consuming, but could be enough of a barrier that only students who are serious about using these for enhanced academic performance would go to the trouble.
4) And, of course, just don’t allow digital devices at all. Flaherty even mentions that some of her students have suggested collecting all cell phones at the front of the lecture hall prior to the start of class. Perhaps an honor statement at the beginning of the semester in which students commit to not using devices during class?