I need to begin this by saying that Dr. Margaret Soltan of George Washington University is probably a brilliant teacher and a lovely woman. A perusal of her page on RateMyProfessor and her circle of friends suggest both. I also think that she is a fairly strong and effective writer.
But I stopped reading her blog and her column long ago, and I would never take a class with her, despite the fact that we share many similar passions in the literature of the English language. I consider her a person who actively discriminates against people based on immutable characteristics of their humanity, a person who divides the world into first and second class citizens based on their similarity to herself. And I find that repugnant.
Dr. Soltan is hardly the only member of a university faculty I place in this category, but by making herself a spokesperson for her position she has effectively become a George Wallace standing in the doorway.
This is not an attack. It is an explanation. And I bring it up now because of a blog conversation inspired by Dr. Soltan at Easily Distracted. The blog at Easily Distracted starts with a typical Soltan hit-and-run against technology in the classroom. In this case quoting another prof who was incensed because a student in his class used a mobile to look up a word the prof had used in a lecture (yeah, really). Now, I'm historian and ethnographer enough to fully understand why a conservative Protestant theologian would object to any variation in the carefully linked structures of Calvinist Religion, Capitalism, and Gutenberg Technology. That's a received faith in authority and the unquestioned role of immutable text. And I understand that Dr. Soltan also teaches at a "private" university (though it is a "public university" by definition of Section 504 in terms of discrimination against students with disabilities because it receives - substantial - federal funds) and students have choices both within and without GWU...
But I'm not speaking of the legal complexities here, I'm speaking of morality...
I came to the Easily Distracted conversation because Carl Dyke at Dead Voles brought me in by referencing a blog post of mine on Technology and Equity in the conversation.
Now, 18 months or so ago I challenged Dr. Soltan on this. I told her how allowing technology into the classroom as universal design made people with "disabilities" far more equal. How it eliminated the humiliation of unwanted and inappropriate disclosure (all said in detail in my post Humiliation and the Modern Professor). And how her anti-technology stance bordered on illegal re: the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504. She responded that, "of course," she would offer accommodation to "documented" students.
Sew on that yellow Star of David
That is not an acceptable response. When we adopt Dr. Soltan's attitude we make it very hard for a lot of students. Students are forced to choose between disclosure and using the tools they need, and I can tell you, from much evidence both 'scholarly' and personal, that many, many students will choose to avoid the tools which come with disclosure. And that many of those students fail.
So, here's the impact of Dr. Soltan's opposition to the general use of technology in her classroom: (1) The further students are from being 'just like her' in abilities, learning styles, and learning preferences, the less likely they are to succeed in her class, because she requires that only her own technological tools be used. (2) Students with "disabilities" or significant learning differences are forced in to perhaps unwanted disclosure by her rules, which may have important consequences for their futures. (3) All students will be prevented from learning how their preferred toolbelt intersects with the world of English literature. Bad for all, disastrous for a specific class of students. Just as racial segregation was at the University of Alabama.
And I am done with this - Dr. Soltan might be horrified if, in order to use 'the facilities' at a meeting, everyone had to get up and declare their gender and sexual preference. She'd possibly be offended if, in order to enter a restaurant, she was forced to declare her medical record. Perhaps she'd be bothered if we did not let her drive to campus without publicly declaring that she was too unfit to walk. In all these cases, we assume that people in society can make personal and tool choices without needing to announce personal information or beg permission from authorities.
But Dr. Soltan is willing to do the equivalent to her students - not only that - she's willing to encourage others to do the same - in other words, she is willing to stand in the schoolhouse door and call the TV camera in to watch her block access.
- Ira Socol
A blog commenter asked why it was wtong to make all these issues public: I replied -
"What I don’t want is anyone forced into unwanted disclosure in this society, especially in the US, where disclosure of disability can limit job opportunities and even access to health care. So, it is not important to me whether you take notes on a laptop because you have dexterity issues or problems forming letters, or issues with attention. I don’t need to know if you have digital books because you are dyslexic or have MS and can’t carry physical books, or even if you just prefer those.
"We can talk preferences and diversity, absolutely. But I do not insist that students proclaim their disabilities, their sexual preferences, their gender, their racial make up, or even their birth socio-economic status. That information is welcomed and greeted without judgment when offered, but I do not teach - or live - in a world so perfect that I am sure no harm will come from these revelations.
"Listen. I’m a doc student in a “Top Ten” School of Education’s Special Ed program (not a Prof -sorry), and there are still situations where I would rather appear insolent than disabled. So if asked why there is an earbud stretching from my laptop to my ear I might say, “I’m listening to music instead of you,” rather than, “the computer is reading to me.” Because I know that with certain university faculty, the former is sadly preferable to the latter."
- About Ira David Socol
- Freedom Stick and Firefox Accessibility
- The Change.Org Posts
- IdeaChat 11 February 2012
- Counting the Origins of Failure
- Technology: The Wrong Questions and the Right Questions
- Today's "School Reformers" vs Real Change for Education - I
- Today’s “School Reformers” vs Real Change for Education - II
- The Toolbelt and Universal Design - Education For Everyone
- "Evaluate that!" - Schools for Children