Joel Freeborn's column, “Teachers shouldn’t preach their own ideals,” summarized the recent Florida Atlantic University controversy as "stomp on Jesus or you’re suspended."
This assessment, identical to that of hundreds of conservative bloggers and opinion writers, is based on a knee-jerk reaction to misreported circumstances.
The point of the exercise that Poole used was to explore the power of symbols. No student would hesitate to step on a piece of blank paper, but if they write a word on it, like Jesus, Mom, or Boyfriend, they might hesitate or refuse.
Stepping on the paper or not wasn't even the point of the exercise – the point was the student’s reaction to the proposition. The fact that Ryan Rotela became extremely upset over the proposition should open the discussion as to why that symbol, the word Jesus, has so much importance.
The exercise came from a book whose author teaches at a Catholic college. Poole identifies himself as a "very religious" Christian.
Originally, the associate dean charged Rotela with “an alleged violation of the student code of conduct... threats, intimidation, harassment.” In an interview with Inside Higher Ed, Poole stated that after class, the student came up to him and said he wanted to hit him. While the student did not do so, Poole notified campus security and filed a report.
That action, he said, not the student's objection to the exercise, is why the student briefly faced disciplinary action.
The explosive and inflammatory response to the situation has been based on Rotela's reaction to the exercise and not based on the purpose of the exercise.
I agree with Freeborn that "good teachers should offer up contradictory ideas to spark intelligent discussion," which is exactly what Poole did. Unfortunately Rotela, and many others, became passionately defensive upon being asked to consider an alternative idea.
Economics PhD student