There was always that one kid in class who raised his hand to answer every question the professor asked. Everybody hated that kid. And despite the appearance that he was about to have a humiliating bowel experience, the teacher rarely called on him, knowing that he would monopolize the class if given the opportunity. The prof’s eyes scanned the classroom: anybody? Anybody but him?
A Penn grad student opened the floodgates of fury when she twitted about her version of a teaching methodology called “progressive stacking.”
The twit has since been deleted, the account locked. Stephanie McKellop taught a sliver of history at Penn, and was the caricature of the woke teacher.
Stephanie McKellop is a Queer disabled feminist and a current Ph.D. student in History at the University of Pennsylvania. They research folk customs and rituals of marriage, divorce, sex, bodies, and bodywork in cultural contact zones of “Vast Early America” as well as the meaning of family in racial and cultural comparison.
She doesn’t seem to be the most likely instructor to ignore raised black hands in favor of hairy white ones.
A number of academics expressed support for McKellop on social media and for progressive stacking. In general, it doesn’t mean excluding men or white students from conversations, or forcing underrepresented students to talk. Instead, it means calling on students who want to talk in the reverse order that one might predictably do so, based on social biases.
Or as Hunter sociology prof Jessie Daniels explained:
“There’s still implicit bias, where we value men’s voices more than women’s voices, or men’s voices are deeper and carry more in a class. So I’m always trying to overcome my own bias to pick on men in class more than the women.”
Did McKellop, or Daniels for that matter, suffer from “implicit” bias that caused them to favor white males? It seems unlikely. And that leads to the reason why McKellop’s twit was received so poorly when all she wanted to do was show the world how sensitive she was to social justice.
If professors have biases against marginalized students, they should strive to overcome them by calling on more students of color, and encouraging students of color to participate. If McKellop had simply said, I go out of my way to call on students who are less likely to participate, in order to make sure a more diverse range of students are receiving equal attention in class, there would be no problem. Instead, McKellop admitted to practicing active discrimination against students on the basis of their skin color.
As Robby Soave noted, rather than a means of eliminating discrimination from the classroom, the rubric of progressive stacking is a rule book for practicing discrimination.
The issue of a professor providing attention to all students may well be real and pervasive. Maybe that one gunner with his hand raised gets more attention than the others. Maybe the shy kid, the quiet one, gets less. Maybe it’s because the prof is biased and prefers white over black, male over female, or maybe the kid who didn’t raise his hand was trying to hide from the prof’s prying eyes because he was out drinking instead of doing the reading the night before.
If profs are ignoring students, giving greater attention to some than others, then why are they profs? And if profs divvy up their attention along racial or gender lines, then it’s not a matter of “implicit” bias, but basic racism. Everyone in your class is your student, and every student deserves a professor’s attention without regard to personal characteristics. Rooting out profs who neglect students doesn’t seem to be particularly controversial.
But is McKellop saying she’s racist? Is she sexist? Is she so incapable of giving attention to students without regard to race or gender that she needs a rule book to follow or she will feel the insurmountable impulse to “value men’s voices more than women’s voices”? Even this characterization seems nonsensical, a feminist trope repeated only by true believers, as if someone who describes herself as a “Queer disabled feminist” can’t manage to be fair to women?
It appears that the pedagogical methodology of progressive stacking isn’t a new one, even though McKellop’s twitter-sized assertion suggested she put her own special spin on the rubric by stating, “And, if I have to, white men.” Does calling on students in reverse order of putatively “expected” bias mean intentionally excluding a race and gender if possible? Does it surprise someone seeking a Ph.D. that proclaiming that she’s so very unprejudiced that she’s overtly prejudiced?
Daniels offers it with a lighter touch:
She still uses it informally, to right her own tendency to call on men more frequently than women.
If she has that “tendency,” however, the problem would seem to be with her, and it’s something she should address internally rather than taking it out on black guys, white women and, god forbid, white guys, who sit in her class and naively expect to be educated and given the same attention as everyone else.
It may well be that historically the deck was stacked against minorities and women in education, though one would suppose that academia’s extraordinary obsession with social justice has ameliorated the problem. But what McKellop’s twit revealed was that she not only unstacked the deck against some, but restacked it against others. Either way, it’s still a stacked deck rather than a legit shuffle where everyone gets the cards they’re dealt.