Biology Below The Gnat Line

Biy'allogy - (n) the scientific discipline otherwise known as biology, as taught below the Gnat Line. This blog is for educators who teach science in the deep south, where social and political conservatism reign supreme and "evolution" is a cuss word.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Pants On The Ground

This is not a biology problem, and before moving here I didn't consider it an ethnic problem, but it's a problem.

The first time I ever really noticed it was when I was at UGA. And it was a multicultural problem: white guys, black guys, Asian guys... It was a guy thing. Here in Swainsboro, it tends to be a black thing, which makes it difficult to address without being accused of racism.

In my opinion, asking a young man to pull up his pants is not racist, it's professional. This is college. This is your chance to present yourself to an intellectual community. Do you really want to do that with your ass hanging out of your pants? REALLY? For what it's worth, I'm also not a fan of sweatpants or pajamas, either. And don't think I won't ask you to cover up your breasts if they spilleth over. That's the way you present yourself? REALLY?

Now, I remember wearing wearing pajamas to class. I remember wearing my track pants to class after swim practice. I remember pretending not to care at all what other people thought and yet spending ages picking out which sweatpants I should wear to class that day. I was presenting myself as casual. Laid back. Smooth. Carefree. Individualistic.


But I promise you I never walked around with my underwear sho-  Oops. Wait. That's not true. I never went to CLASS with my underwear showing. I promise.

A male student asked me, "Dr. B! Did you yell at someone about their pants being low in the Registrar's office today?" It wasn't me, but I was his first guess, because I'd gotten after him and his friends before. Typically all I ask is whether or not there is a reason I'm being forced to look at their underpants. They say no, and they pull their pants up. If they're wearing a long shirt and I can't see it, I don't care. It's baggy. Baggy is unflattering, but it's not inappropriate. At this point, the few on campus who are the worst offenders pull their pants up the minute they see me. I smile and say hello and ask after them and treat them as I would any other college student. They seem fine with it.

Recently, one of my other students claimed that his government professor told him that wearing pants buckled below the crotch is about "street cred" and I shouldn't be so critical. It's racist. "Your government professor is a middle aged white guy from Alabama. He's your expert?" I don't buy it. This is an academic environment. Put your best face forward. Do you want to be a thug or a college graduate? Why in the Hell are you here?

So, I'm going to keep asking them to pull up their damn pants.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Dirty Rotten Cheaters

I have to talk about the cheating, because it's obnoxious.

Cheating is not limited to southerners or small schools or even juvenile delinquents. Economics graduate students do it. Professional athletes do it. My mother would never do it, but only because she's a really terrible liar. Maybe your mom did it? My point is that it's not just the poor and uneducated who lack the scruples necessary to resist opportunities to cheat. Lots of people lack scruples. They don't sell those at Wal-Mart, you know.

I enjoy small class sizes. I have a lot of control over my students because I can see them. I can walk around and watch them as they take their exams. It would be difficult - not impossible - to cheat during one of my exams. In fact, I rarely have a problem with cheating in my class, either because they are very clever at hiding it or because they are afraid to get caught. Semesters worth of lackluster test scores indicate that they just don't do it.

They say cheaters never prosper, but is that true? I don't think we can say for sure. At the time, it might seem like a good idea. Or at the very least, it seems inconsequential. Unless you get caught, who does it really hurt?

I don't condone cheating, but I certainly understand the train of thought that may re-route you into Cheater Town. Perhaps Cheater Town is simply a stop on your journey. It's not like you're going to live in Cheater Town the rest of your life, right? You just intend to cut through Cheater Town to get to Prosperityville, where you promise to be a model citizen. But the thing about Cheater Town is that it's highly addictive. You can do whatever you want, and nothing requires very much work. Oh the people who've been permanently stranded in Cheater Town. The folks in Prosperityville pray for you.

I recently suspected that a student cheated on my Biology lab exam. I did not see her cheat, but for someone who never shows up to labs, fails all her other exams, and didn't bring a calculator with her, a perfect score (and calculations to the hundredth digit without showing work) was a bit... unusual. This girl is cute, and bubbly, and very sweet. She even drew a little Church of God cross and flame over her name. She would NEVER cheat, right?

She took the exam late, because she was allegedly in the hospital. I don't do make-up exams (there is a provision in the rubric for missed exams), but for a lab exam I am a bit more lenient. I told her that if she brought me proof that she was indeed in the hospital and could not take the test, she could make it up. She brought me a hospital discharge slip. I made a copy and told her I would be checking on it. She took the exam and bounced on her merry way.

Then I noticed the perfect score. Then I called to verify the signature on the discharge slip. Because of HIPAA, I can't even ask if the student was seen at the hospital, let alone ask when she was seen, or for what. All I can do is FAX the slip to the hospital and ask the person who signed the form to verify their signature. Easy peasy.

This signature checked out, but the rest of the form did not. Without disclosing details, the nurse said that her signature was valid but that she did not fill out that particular form. So the signature, while her's, was fraudulent. "We have a problem," I said. "Oh yes, we do," she replied.

What I do and what she does are two separate things and need not interact, so we said our goodbyes and I contacted my boss. I assume she did the same. Whether she or the hospital file charges against my student for forgery is none of my business. This student faces huge consequences in my class, some of which have already been explained to her. I'm going to have to involve myself in a giant procedure created to ensure that students get due process and we get a ton of paperwork. But she violated the student code, and there are consequences for that kid of behavior. "I made a bad choice and I'm sorry," won't cut it. It's not enough. I don't believe that you are really sorry. The evidence does not lend you any credibility. You are young, but you are an adult. Getting away with it now makes it okay in the future. And it's not okay.

The worst part? The little cross and flame over her name. She committed forgery, cheated on a test, and then draws a religious symbol over her name. I am offended. For whom I don't know for sure. I'm neither religious nor spiritual, but I'm offended that someone would use a Christian symbol when they are clearly up to no good. It's the height of hypocrisy. I would feel the same if the symbol were Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist... it's wrong. It's offensive.

How do we discourage this behavior? I work hard to set a good example. I outline all rules and expectations plainly at the beginning of class. I maintain high standards for myself and my students. I don't put up with disruptive or disrespectful behavior. I make consequences known ahead of time. And yet... they still cheat. The ability to squash the urge to cheat must come from within. I can't give it to them. They have to bring a certain amount of maturity to the table. It's up to them.