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Woke in Class

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Yesterday in the local news: college teacher makes racist statements during online class. That sounds an awful lot like click bait, doesn’t it? That’s because, to a certain extend, it is.

Apparently, in an attempt to check up on his students and see if everyone is still peachy and paying attention, the teacher said something in the line of “You’re all still following? I suddenly see a nigga appear, that can’t be true”. It is said that the teacher was a bit confused—because of the bad connection that temporarily disabled streaming thumbnails, meaning black “spots” appear? We don’t know. Context, of course, is absent. Otherwise, the drama would quickly fade away.

Let’s get a few things straight here. Of course it’s wrong to blurt out things like that, even if you’re a bit confused or trying to be funny. But you know what else is wrong? Secretly filming such a session without everyone’s permission, sharing it to a private social media group, and having a good laugh. Then deciding to really screw the teacher over by taking it further. Yelling “#cancel this man!” on Twitter.

I am a teacher. Over the past two years, I’ve taught countless of times online using many different platforms. They all suck. It’s plainly put horrible and near impossible to get feedback from students. Ninety percent of them doesn’t want to turn on their camera for various legit and shady reasons. How is the teacher supposed to know if you’re still following along? I don’t care if you don’t want to pay attention, but I do care if you do and there is some way I can help you that I otherwise might skip. Checking up on students is meant to help, not to control. And teaching online makes that damn hard. I hate getting no reaction when I ask if everyone’s still cool. Conclusion? Getting no image, blurry or blacked out images, or being confused as to what’s going on is normal—or even inevitable.

I like to entertain my students. That is hard to do with technical contents of boring programming courses. The obvious solution is to deploy humor at the right moments. The problem is that picking those “right moments” is, depending on the audience, very difficult. I’ll be the first to admit that making racist jokes is something that we did all too often in the industry, just to fool around, in-between “compiling, compiling!” exclamations. Colleagues knew that we were just fooling around. But those were no woke-aware students. I think I’ve made my share of misplaced jokes in front of class without giving it too much thought. I still remember at one point I said “that sucks”, meaning “It’s too bad that the time limit is exceeded for your test”. The student understood “you suck”. A few days later, I got a call. That indeed sucked. Conclusion? Misplaced jokes are easily misunderstood.

Again, I’m not trying to justify the teacher’s statement. But I do think that we’re all overreacting quite a bit here lately. Suddenly, everyone is walking on eggshells. Reading that news post made me scared: this could totally happen to me, while all I’m trying to do is get the attention of my students by breaking the boring stuff. During programming demos, I often deliberately make mistakes to point out certain best practices, and end it with something like “this is the shitty solution”. This is my eleven-year-old industry “bullshit talk” experience I can’t quite shake, but at the same time, am not willing to. I hate the thought of becoming an erudite and “distinguished” teacher. It is true that I should probably think more before saying something when facing a class. Of course there are other ways to entertain or attract attention. But I don’t really want to.

What’s up with this cancel culture of late anyway? Twitter starts blocking accounts of users that claim COVID-vaccinated people can still infect others—which is true and scientifically proven! Is Trump right after all? I’ve read stories of people taking refuge on Mastodon because of the blocking charade. Whether it’s “the algorithm” or not, yelling #cancel and demanding erasure just because there’s something or an opinion you don’t like is not going to magically solve anything. In fact, it only makes things worse.

Two years ago, the statue of Belgian king Leopold II was removed from the beautiful city hall of Leuven. There are no artisan sculptors left that know the secrets of the trade, so a gaping hole is what you can marvel at next time you visit the city. The statue itself was… moved to the cellar:

The town hall and the statues are protected, the statues are therefore not allowed to leave the town hall, they must remain in place. The niche will remain empty for the time being.

This woke thing is getting out of hand. Instead of turning a blind eye, perhaps we should educate our children on how Leopold II ruled, so we can learn from that.

The college teacher has shown remorse and is willing to talk about it. They’re still debating on the repercussions. I hope his apology is genuine and the students, colleagues and director all accept it.

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I'm Wouter Groeneveld, a Brain Baker, and I love the smell of freshly baked thoughts (and bread) in the morning. I sometimes convince others to bake their brain (and bread) too.

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