The Stacked Deck

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.

13 thoughts on “The Stacked Deck

  1. David Meyer-Lindenberg

    Now, let’s not be too harsh. One presumes that her preference for black men over white women is principled and consistent, making her a fellow skeptic of Title IX tribunals. Would you really throw an “ally” under the bus?

    1. SHG Post author

      The snark of hypocrisy reaction is based on a false assumption of equality of opportunity v. equality of outcome. Don’t impose your white male principled view on her woke outcome view, as you culturally appropriate the word “ally.”

  2. Elpey P.

    More white savior stupidity, or intentionally inflammatory suicide tweet? Occam’s Razor is sending mixed messages. Now we have fellow social justice academics dutifully following their martyred comrade into the breach, defending a tweet that (among other things) explicitly relegates the majority of non-white students to second tier status. She must have clicked submit on that tweet feeling like Slim Pickens riding the bomb.

    1. SHG Post author

      Without seeing what preceded it, it’s hard to know if she was Slim or the doc. Then again, it’s hard to go wrong on the side of social justice these days provided you have enough victim points.

  3. Jim Tyre

    There was always that one kid in class who raised his hand to answer every question the professor asked. Everybody hated that kid.

    And here I thought this was going to be your autobiography.

      1. Turk

        I was the kid staring out the window, praying the teach didn’t notice me.

        Ahh, irony. In all of this discussion of calling on black women first or other POC as being discriminatory is the presumption that those kids actually want to get called on.

  4. Matthew S Wideman

    What’s weird to me besides the obvious and giant hypocracy. Stephanie McKellop’s CV or biography is so weird to me. It’s weird that one would list their physical maladies and sexual preference. It seems so unprofessional and un important to what her qualifications are.

    My bio on the firm’s website is pretty boring in comparison. But, I am thinking about add, “white, male, kind of a bad back, and my right finger hurts when it gets cold and practing law for 5 years”

  5. B. McLeod

    “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.”

    So, she is useless, favors the pronoun “they,” and will never produce anything of value to society.

  6. Bryan Burroughs

    So, given that she’s a state employee and openly admitted to racial and sex/gender discrimination, we can expect her to be fired, right? At least get sensitivity training? Cause I’m pretty sure if some white tweeted that he prefers to call on white males in his classroom before any others, he wouldn’t have a job much longer…

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