Tag Archives: Campus Carry

Professing While Teaching

This post is written by member Matthew Boedy. 

As is usual in first-year composition, I assigned a research project to my students. In a course I titled The Rhetoric of Higher Education this semester, I proposed to my students that they embark on a research agenda of an issue affecting higher education.

Some of the perennial subjects showed up in student choices: student loan debt, tuition increases, paying student athletes, and “safe spaces.” These were all subjects I put on the syllabus. I listed on the syllabus other issues such as academic freedom, the role of the humanities, and the ways in which colleges have branded themselves. I provided a few readings for each topic, and we spent a week discussing each subject. Many of these sources showed up in the final papers, though many students had other, better sources.

I also strategically scheduled a week on the syllabus for an issue I have been involved in: the fight to prevent allowing guns on college campuses. I deliberately put that issue on the syllabus on the same day I also assigned the first step in the research process, hoping students would claim that issue.

For two years I have written (most recently here) and spoken against bills in our state legislature that would give those age twenty-one and older permission to carry a concealed, permitted weapon on campus, albeit in limited areas. That advocacy has gotten me placed on a conservative “professor watchlist” (I won’t link to it), some indirect pushback from my administration, and not a few insulting online comments.

My syllabus scheme was somewhat successful. About twenty of my sixty students chose “campus carry” as their research project. Why did they? In my class, at my university, and in my state, the overwhelming majority of students (not to mention faculty and staff) are against guns on campus. So I assume that those who chose to write about it did so because they share that opinion. But a few students chose to argue in favor of the idea. In Georgia we have a strong “gun culture” and a state law that allows concealed weapons in most public places, though not college campuses.

Of course, the question of grading comes up. Do those students writing in favor of guns think I am biased? I am never sure. I probably hold those who agree with me to a higher standard, checking more closely their sources and arguments even in the last, rushed days of the semester.

Some might argue that if I am doing my job correctly, it doesn’t matter whether students think I am biased. To these people, the question is whether I can set aside my personal bias to grade fairly, given the assignment and expectations for citations and conclusions.

But this issue is not merely one of personal bias for me. I cannot set aside my conclusion that campus carry is dangerous. And what is fair here? In student assessment, it is not a simple matter of presenting evidence to back up conclusions. It is also a matter of credibility, audience, and ethics.

For example, students in my class who favor campus carry, echoing sources they have read, point out that my school already has guns (we have the usual campus police and we are a military school, though my particular campus does not house military personnel). They transition from this point to champion campus carry by concluding we should not fear guns at all because we don’t fear those other guns. Yet this is a weak argument because it is a non sequitur. The comparison is not apples-to-apples, because military and police weapons are handled by well-trained individuals and securely locked away when not. I discount the paper that makes this argument.

On the other hand, those students who agree with me and who quote my work in their essays sometimes don’t quote me well, and I discount them for that. And here “well” means using my information to make their own claim, not merely summarizing my points.

Overall, in class I seek to give all students the opportunity to practice their thinking and show them ways to do that well. In doing that through the topic of campus carry, I aim to provide national context (each state’s version of this bill is different), historical context (the rise of such bills since 2008), and the importance of stakeholders and audience (I stress to students that I am their reader, not their audience). I hope this experience has taught them that nothing we do in the classroom – especially any type of literacy instruction – is free from politics.

This assignment was a teaching moment for them but also a learning moment for me. I continually have to learn how to be political without, well, being political. The question for me this semester has been how to balance my advocacy and my teaching. And whether “balance” is the right metaphor. I don’t feel I have to mention a claim from “each side” when I bring up the issue.

But I did make sure that the readings I included on the syllabus for the week we spent examining campus carry were about equal in number for each side. While I did not fact-check every claim in the pro-gun sources, I knew many would be rebutted the next class period by readings from those against guns on campus. I also did not disparage the pro-gun sites in general. (I used links from the NRA and groups committed to campus carry in my state. On my side, I used some of my work, the governor’s veto from last year’s version of this bill, a survey from another university conducted by the student government association that showed 70% opposed, and a tweet from REM front man Michael Stipe, who was among a handful of celebrities from Georgia to announce their opposition.)

I made clear my position in class while also suggesting that those on “the other side” were sincere and informed, to be taken seriously. Yet not every claim made in this debate is accurate and ethical. A question for my students is who to believe on this issue. There are many voices and I am one, but I am a voice with built-in credibility and authority. And so with great power comes great responsibility. In that vein, I invited two state legislators into my class – two gun rights advocates who not only voted for the bill but who also represent my students and me.

I decided before the legislators came that I would not interrupt or speak in opposition during their time in my class. I did not want the class to become a debating ground between me and them; this was for the students. I thought any dissension from me would create unneeded discomfort. I wanted to show some civility and give the legislators room to make their case. I did not fear they would convince students, as I knew my side also had compelling arguments. And the legislators used many different types of appeals to convince the class – mainly invention strategies we had talked about in class during this semester. It was helpful for students to see effective rhetoric at work.

During the Q&A period after the presentation, one student asked about the lack of training required to get a concealed weapons permit in our state. The legislators encouraged any permit holder to get training. Another student questioned why there was a need for guns after a law passed last year allowing Tasers and stun guns on campus. The legislators suggested those devices would not help those physically weaker.

Then the legislators argued that there was a massive crime increase on some campuses in our state. I stayed quiet, knowing these stats were misleading. But the next class day I felt compelled to provide needed context to the statistics the legislators cited. I praised parts of what the legislators said (they effectively used enthymemes and had a credible personal history with guns, for example). Then I pointed out what the FBI says about crime stats: using one number in a narrow way as they did is not prudent. Then I pointed to contradictory numbers put out by the same university the legislators quoted. Then I showed students how some universities in the same state report crimes that happened in places they can’t verify, i.e., off campus.

Finally I asked my students how we decide which numbers to use. One student responded that we use the ones that best fit our case. I cried a pox on both our houses, because many people in this debate do this. So I asked, in a larger context, how do we frame statistics? Students provided few answers within some awkward silence – perhaps the first time they had ever been asked to grapple seriously with the question.

I ended the conversation talking about the connection between facts and who presents them, how pathos appeals are intertwined with statistics, and how our literacy practices are fraught with complexities. Then I told students that I can’t and won’t tell them what to write. I can only put them in situations where they try out rhetorical strategies I have taught and so create credibility for themselves as writers. This is illuminating a path to learning, not necessarily a teaching of composition. This point is worth making in a political climate in which so many think we professors (especially in the humanities) bar or demean certain student opinions. It is also worth advocating for the asking of important questions. And the silent struggle to understand.

Dr. Matthew Boedy is an Assistant Professor of Rhetoric of Composition at the University of North Georgia in Gainesville, Ga. He teaches sections of First Year Composition and advanced professional writing courses. 

What Happened in Your State This April?

This past month, ten policy analysts published reports about what occurred in the following states: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Louisiana, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

ESSA Implementation

Colorado: Stevi Quate discusses Colorado’s choice of attendance as the fifth indicator in ESSA Colorado-Style: The Challenge of the Fifth Indicator.

Readers may want to visit ESSA Implementation in the States to see what your state is doing.

Higher Education

Texas: In Campus Carry VII, Michael Gos continues his series, noting that this August, students may carry a concealed weapon at community colleges. There is concern, however, over the presence of high school students who attend classes through dual enrollment.

Funding and Budget

California: Dan Melzer shares Assembly Democratic Leaders Announce “Degrees Not Debt” Higher Education Budget Package, in which the Degrees Not Debt Scholarship will provide a supplemental grant to full-time students receiving certain grants.

Connecticut: Stephen Ferruci addresses Debt Forgiveness in Connecticut given that Connecticut ranks third in student debt.

New York: According to Derek Kulnis, New York State Offers Free College Tuition through the Excelsior Scholarship to any New Yorker, within certain income limits, accepted to a community college or four-year public university

Pennsylvania: Due to declining budgets and enrollments, Possible Faculty Lay-Offs and Program Cuts are on the horizon, D. Alexis Hart writes.

PreK–12

Arkansas: In Little Rock School District at Status Quo, Donna Wake expresses the concern that the state is closing schools in predominantly African American neighborhoods after having passed a law offering charter schools the rights of first refusal for unused school facilities.

Donna also provides links for teachers to review Annual School Performance and an analysis of Teacher and Superintendent Salaries.

Louisiana: Jalissa Bates explains in Louisiana High School Students and Businesses Benefit from “Jump Start Summers” that grants from businesses support student efforts to attend school in the summer.

New York: Derek Kulnis posts that New York Changes Parent-Teacher Conferences by including students in the conferences to review their work and to provide time for teachers to have parental interaction.

Wisconsin: Kris Cody-Johnson shares state education information in Lifetime Licenses for Teachers Potentially Returns for Wisconsin, Wisconsin Requests Budget for Mental Health, and Voices Grow to Repeal Wisconsin School Start Date.

Wyoming: Tiffany Rehbein shares that Wyoming Districts Look to Sue State Over Funding.

What Happened in Your State this September?

capitol buildingThis past month, fifteen policy analysts published reports about what occurred in the following states: California, Connecticut, Idaho, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Higher Education

Stephen Ferruci previews a bill in Connecticut that would help undocumented students “access institutional financial assistance.”

Dan Melzer describes legislation that passed in California, awaiting the governor’s signature, in AB 1690 Outlines Minimum Standards for Adjunct Instructors at California Community Colleges.

Michael Gos continues his series in Campus Carry Law VI, noting that the injunction requested by three professors against enforcement of the new University of Texas campus carry policy was denied while the lawsuit moves forward.

Higher Education/P–12 Education

As part of a trend all over the United States, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Adopts Emergency Teacher Licensing Rules to Address Teacher Shortage. Donna Pasternak notes that softening licensing requirements for K–12 teachers will impact not only school districts but also schools of education and departments of English.

Derek Kulnis describes New York City’s efforts to diversify its teaching force through a program called NYC Men Teach, which recruits men of color through mentoring programs or alternative pathways.

Michael Gos outlines the budget cuts, requested by Texas leaders, to all state agencies, including K–12 and higher education, noting the particular impact on community colleges.

P–12 Education

In Keystone Test No Longer an Exit Exam, Aileen Hower notes that Pennsylvania is reviewing alternative assessments. New Jersey, on the other hand, will “triple the weight of PARCC scores in teacher evaluations,” according to Kristen Turner.

Again in Pennsylvania, Aileen Hower shares Katie Meyer’s article about the National Labor Relations Board ruling that a virtual charter school should be classified as a private corporation, not a public institution. Aileen also published Judge: Lower Merion Schools Misled Taxpayers, Must Revoke Tax Hike, revealing that the Merion school district had a budget surplus.

Darlene Dyer writes about Mastery Education a Reality in Idaho; in mastery education, students “advance from grade to grade based on mastering concepts instead of seat time or a passing grade.”

Karen Henderson reports that MATELA (the Montana Association of Teachers of English Language Arts) will have a “significant presence” at the Montana Educators’ Conference in October through a number of presentations.

In response to a Montana State Board of Education ruling on writing programs, MATELA issued its own policy statement, which Anna Baldwin describes in Policy Assistance Offered for Significant Writing Programs.

Tiffany Rehbein reports from Wyoming that ACT Scores Increase[d] and Town Hall Meetings Give Wyoming Residents Voice on ESSA Implementation.

Robin Holland has been following teachers in Cleveland, posting these two reports: Cleveland Teachers Set to Strike in Ohio and Teacher Strike Averted in Cleveland, Ohio.

Clancy Ratliff describes the release by the Louisiana State Board of Education of a Digital Literacy Guide. Jalissa Bates shares that Louisiana Children with Disabilities Receive Boost with Federal Grant of $7 million.

Pamela Doiley questions whether Massachusetts will pass financial literacy legislation.

Derek Kulnis reports that New York City will revise the way it tests water for lead in all of its schools.

What Happened In Your State This July?

This is the next in a monthly series to inform members about what is going on in your state.

capitol buildingThis past month, ten policy analysts published reports about what occurred in the following states: California, Connecticut, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Vermont and Wisconsin. The reports range from prekindergarten through higher education.

Anne Slonaker reports on Act 166: An act relating to providing access to publicly funded prekindergarten in Vermont for all children ages 3 and 4 for two years.

Kris Cody-Johnson reported on a number of issues in Wisconsin. In Milwaukee Schools Face Tumult,  she describes the conflict between legislators who wish to convert traditional public schools to charters and the families of color who wish to retain some local control. SAGE Program Ends describes the Wisconsin legislature eliminating a successful program for low-income students in kindergarten through third grade and replacing it with instructional coaching for teachers and one-on-one tutoring for students.

The transfer of public monies to private schools was illustrated in the following posts: Wisconsin Special Needs Voucher Law in which SB 615 permitted children with disabilities to attend private schools with a $12,000 voucher and Wisconsin Voucher Expansion. In the latter post, Kris Cody-Johnson described the implications of private schools receiving public funding without the same requirements imposed on public schools. She wrote that a Christian school receiving public funding required “parents to provide a birth certificate to know the child’s born gender and sign a parent handbook listing what a student can be disciplined and expelled for, including homosexuality.” Senator Johnson Works to Stop DOJ Investigations Protecting Title II outlines the efforts of United States Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) introducing an amendment that would bar the Department of Justice from enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act for private schools receiving public funding.

In May of this year, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that the Wisconsin State Superintendent Remains Independent against the wishes of Governor Scott Walker, who interpreted Act 21 as giving him final say on administrative rules related to public education.

Like many other states, Wisconsin sees increased teacher shortage.

Kentucky’s Emily Zuccaro reports on the findings of a report released from the Migration Policy Institute in Improving Education for Migrant-Background Students.  Stephen Ferrucci describes A Good Place for Higher Education DREAMers at Eastern Connecticut State University where 49 immigrant students will receive scholarships from a non-profit to attend.

Dan Melzer’s report on California’s Final State Budget for 2016-17 focused on higher education, particularly, grants for college readiness and improving graduation rates. In The University System of New Hampshire Expands its Open Education Initiative to Reduce Costs for Students, He also posted about Eloy Ortiz Oakley Named Chancellor of the California Community College System, the first Latino chancellor of the California community college system. Alexandria Peary describes New Hampshire’s provision of open educational resources, pedagogy and access for college students.

Robin Holland describes Ohio’s College Credit Plus Program that allows students, grades 7-12 to earn college credit at no cost while simultaneously earning high school credit for the same course. She notes an online survey for Ohio’s Learning Standards Revision due August 1.

Jalissa Bates publicizes that the Louisiana State Superintendent Hosts Statewide Forums to Address Every Student Succeeds Act.

[Note: ESSA Implementation in the States lists forums, surveys and contact information all over the United States.]

In Campus Carry Law V, Michael Gos reports on the conceal carry law enacted in Texas that will go into effect August 1.

Anastasia Wickham describes how 40 of 78 Oklahoma educators, parents and/or advocates won primaries and will be running for election this November in Educators/advocates win primaries.