The ‘Jesus’ stomp

Telling Intercultural Communications students to stomp on a piece of paper with “Jesus” written on it was supposed to illustrate the power of symbols. (Why not an “Allah” stomp? That’s a really powerful symbol!)  Now Florida Atlantic University has apologized for the “Jesus” stomp exercise, but denied suspending the student who complained about it.

“This exercise will not be used again,” FAU officials said in a statement. “We sincerely apologize for any offense this caused. Florida Atlantic University respects all religions and welcomes people of all faiths, backgrounds and beliefs.”

The exercise came from a book by a St. Norbert College communications professor, Jim Neuliep.

“This exercise is a bit sensitive, but really drives home the point that even though symbols are arbitrary, they take on very strong and emotional meanings,” the exercise states. “Most will hesitate. Ask why they can’t step on the paper. Discuss the importance of symbols in culture.”

“We can confirm that no student has been expelled, suspended or disciplined by the university as a result of any activity that took place during this class,” the university statement claimed, adding that students weren’t required to step on the paper.

Ryan Rotela, a devout Mormon, was charged with violating the student code of conduct and ordered not to attend class, according to Fox News. He’d told instructor Deandre Poole that he objected to the exercise, saying “don’t do that again” and “you’ll be hearing from me.”

. . . according to a letter written by Associate Dean Rozalia Williams, Rotela is facing a litany of charges – including an alleged violation of the student code of conduct, acts of verbal, written or physical abuse, threats, intimidation, harassment, coercion or other conduct which threaten the health, safety or welfare of any person.”

“In the interim, you may not attend class or contact any of the students involved in this matter – verbally or electronically – or by any other means,” Williams wrote to Rotela. “Please be advised that a Student Affairs hold may be placed on your records until final disposition of the complaint.”

Presumably, the charges have been dropped, but FAU, a state university, didn’t admit Rotela had been threatened and didn’t apologize to him.

The professor had a right to ask students to stomp on “Jesus,” but can’t require them to violate their religious beliefs, argues FIRE’s Greg Lukianoff, citing a 1943 U.S. Supreme Court case. Protesting the exercise was a classic exercise of free speech rights.

Another FAU communications professor, James Tracy, has questioned “whether the Sandy Hook shooting ever took place —at least in the way law enforcement authorities and the nation’s news media have described.”

Fluent on facts, weak on abstraction

Fluency in addition and multiplication isn’t everything, writes Education Realist.

. . . plenty of solid math students don’t have fluency and—here is the important part—many exceptionally weak math students have strong fact fluency.

Ed Realist’s “math support” students, who are trying to pass the exit exam and graduate from high school, tend to be very literal and easily thrown by symbols. Ed Realist  asked students to read a simple equation as a sentence. When a student turned x + 6 = 14 into “what number do I add to six to get 14?” the answer was clear to most of the class.

One student, Gerry, still didn’t get it.  He said he could only do math if it doesn’t have letters.

 “You need to look at these problems from a different part of your brain.”

. . . “X + 6 = 14. This is when you have to do stuff to both sides, right? I can’t do that.”

“Read it again. But instead of saying x, say ‘what’.”

“What plus 6 = 14? 8.”

Gerry said he couldn’t do fractions. But when he turned x/5 = 9 into “what divided by 5 is 9?” he got 45 right away.  “I feel like a math genius,” he said.

“You know a lot more math than you think you do,” the teacher said. ” You just have to figure out how to ask the question in a way your brain understands.”

Not everyone is capable of understanding abstractions to the same degree, Education Realist concludes.

Some people do better learning the names of capitals and Presidents and the planets in the solar system. They’d learn confidence and competence through interesting, concrete math word problems and situations, and enjoy reading and writing about specific historic events, news, or scientific inventions that helped society. Instead, we shovel them into algebra, chemistry and literature analysis and make them feel stupid.

She quotes psychologist James Flynn on why IQ’s have risen steadily and significantly since the start of the 20th century (the “Flynn effect”).

Modern people . . .  are the first of our species to live in a world dominated by categories, hypotheticals, nonverbal symbols and visual images that paint alternative realities.

. . . A century ago, people mostly used their minds to manipulate the concrete world for advantage. They wore what I call “utilitarian spectacles.” Our minds now tend toward logical analysis of abstract symbols—what I call “scientific spectacles.” Today we tend to classify things rather than to be obsessed with their differences. We take the hypothetical seriously and easily discern symbolic relationships.

Well, some of us do. Flynn has a new book out, Are We Getting Smarter?