High School, the Sequel: Policing in Classrooms Continues

The high school I attended my sophomore year was sort of like a ditcher’s paradise. The campus was open and by then, many of the students had cars so it wasn’t difficult to leave for lunch and skip out on our afternoon classes. James Bonds we were not, but ditching still had a bit of art to it. From well-rehearsed parental signatures to the illusive doctor’s note, we had many ways of “excusing ourselves” while confusing our teachers. We even went as far as to call the office posing as our parents, our voices disguised and muffled, excusing our bedridden children.
College, of course, is a slightly different story. There are no angular librarians to shush you in study lab, and if unplugging your alarm sounds better than your 8 a.m. class, no one is there to stop you. Come finals week, however, you may be cursing those extra sleep-in days. Yet, it is by this basic cause and effect that I learned to be a bit more responsible, and let me just say that borrowed lecture notes do not make “A” papers.
Or at least, this is what my initial understanding of college had been. For some reason, the past few quarters have become increasingly constricting. Suddenly, the professor is taking roll in my 100-person lecture class and teaching assistants are taking it again in my 40-person discussion section. I’m told that if I am counted absent in more than a certain number of lectures and discussions, I will fail the class completely. But by the time roll is finally taken and class actually starts, we are 10, sometimes 20, minutes into the allotted class time. Far be it from me not to admit that some days, I couldn’t ask for more than a shorter lecture. But in the back of my mind, I can’t help but feel a bit cheated.
Currently, my personal funds and scholarships allow me to be here, and as such, I feel obligated to get the most out of my classes. I must say it’s frustrating when this class time is spent keeping myself and my classmates in check. Shouldn’t that be our job? I know full well that if I’m spacing out or Facebooking during class that it’s going to set me back in one way or another. So why in my third year am I suddenly being micromanaged? On the one hand, I appreciate the gesture of keeping me on track, making sure I am reading, etc. But isn’t it, in a way, fueling irresponsibility?
It is a conundrum, and it shows itself most obviously during discussion sections. You can always tell when no one has done the reading. You try and make yourself as small as you possibly can in your chair until you notice that your neighbor is doing the same thing. I open my book forcefully, trying to add creases to the spine so as to make it seem like the book has been carefully read and re-read. Why do you think students love used books? It’s not that they’re cheaper; it’s that they look like someone has actually read and highlighted them. (And here my classmates and professors alike will ostracize me as I betray the secrets of non-reading in college literature classes.)
Yet, the most climactic of my in-class policing moments came not from a professor or teaching assistant, but actually from another student in the class. I was sitting in my 200-person film lecture the other day, scribbling furiously in my notebook to keep track of a somewhat complicated concept the professor was explaining, when a hand shot up somewhere near the middle-right of the lecture hall. When the professor called on the student, she reported that some people in the front row were using their laptops for non-class related purposes.
Murmurs swept over the classroom as the derailed professor stumbled to field the tattler and return to the material at hand. The whole thing brought me back to high school so quickly that I had genuine concerns involving words like, “detention” and “principal’s office.” I’m just glad we don’t have bells to mark the beginning and end of classes. At least, not yet.