Comments Of The Day, As “The Monday Friday Open Forum” Became The Ethics Alarms Mailbag

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For some reason, the most recent Ethics Alarms open forum attracted quite a few ethics quandaries for discussion. Here are two I thought were especially noteworthy…first, from The Shadow, which is ironic, since I thought The Shadow was supposed to know what evil lurked in the hearts of men…

This is something that happened in my neighborhood (that I’ve only lived in for 2 months, so I don’t know anyone involved) and I was just an interested observer.

A family had pickets knocked off their fence multiple times in the past few months, so they put up a security camera. The next time it happened, the camera caught teenagers ramming and kicking the fence, then running across the road into the back yard of a house. An older couple owns the house, but the have teenage grandchildren living with them. This family posted the video on the neighborhood Facebook group asking for advice; they didn’t want to go talk to the people across the street because “they didn’t want to start trouble”. Some suggested going across the street to talk to them anyway, some suggested calling the police. Another neighbor ended up talking to the grandparents and It turns out the culprits were friends of the teenagers living with them.

I don’t know the final outcome, but there are many good ethics angles here:

1) Should this family have posted the video to Facebook?
2) What should they have done with the information about the teenagers across the street?
3) Should the 3rd party have stepped in to talk to the people across the street (does “duty to confront” apply here)?
4) Once it was known the culprits were friends of teenagers living there, what should the grandparents have done?

Any other good ethics angles here?

I think this is a pure Golden Rule situation, which means not posting the video to Facebook, and not going to the police, at least initially. You have the courtesy of going to the elderly couple, and ask if they will take care of the issue by contacting their grandkids’ friends’ parents. If they won’t do anything, then the police are the next stop. One must do what is necessary to get compensated for the property damage, while doing as little damage to everyone else as possible.

Now here’s ethics puzzle #2, from Sarah B.:

Some background is necessary to answer this question. I live in a small town in the middle of nowhere, 100 miles from the nearest clothing store, and one high school (or middle/elementary) option for kids from four communities. We have no college nearby, but a town 100 miles away has a community college that is considered by state charter to have jurisdiction over our town. That college has a deal with our high school that they will provide classes for credit to our high school students. In previous years, the professor of a class would lecture in town one to two days a week and a high school teacher would assist on other days. This year, because of COVID, the lessons are all virtual. In this instance, the MATH 1400 (College Algebra 1), a three hour college course, is being taught by the head of the math department. For full disclosure, I was hired as a tutor for one of the high school kids as a “Hail Mary” when he had run out of all other options and someone reminded his mother of my availability as I typically don’t advertise of this, my fourth side gig. I am giving the situation as I understand it, some of which is based on my personal knowledge, other part are from what I have heard from this student as well as a few others near to the situation.

This teacher would give her class 1-3 four (not forty, four) minute zoom lectures a week, averaging eight minutes of lecture each week. She then would provide one example of each type of problem in the only computer program they were allowed to use for the class. She would the assign homework, quizzes, and tests for the students in this program. They were to submit their answers for homework and quizzes, but not any work and full or no credit was given for their answers. Partial credit was not an option. For example, my student worked through a practice assignment with me. He tried to type in the answer “logcx” but he made a slight mistake and typed in “log x”. The practice question informed him that he would have failed the question if this was a real assignment. The math editor was poorly explained to the students and not very intuitive to use.

Tests were slightly different. The students were required to take a math test in 35 minutes on the math editor with anti-cheating software installed. No credit would be given for any question without work, and the work must be turned into photos and sent to the teacher immediately upon completion of the test, or the entire test would be negated. That being said, only two pages of work (or one front and back page) would be allowed. Any additional work would be discounted, potentially allowing the students to lose credit for over half of the test.

I would have been hard pressed to only use two pages for some of the practice tests and I can skip multiple steps in my head as a tutor. In addition, the teacher had a zero tolerance cheating policy (I would typically agree, but not like this) that used the software to kick kids out of her class. If there is background noise, you are considered to be cheating. Of course, these tests are to be taken at home, so one student was dismissed for academic dishonesty when her mother called her sibling to set the table. If there is background motion, such as a family pet, or another sibling walking by the screen, academic dishonesty and expulsion as one boy experienced with his brother coming into their room.

If the laptop issued by the school is moved, such as the student who experienced a power and internet outage and gathered her things to rush across town to a location where there was power and internet before the 35 minutes were up, you are expelled for cheating. In addition, if the work you had to submit for these tests shows that you used a method not taught by the teacher, it is assumed you were cheating, such as one student who found an online program to teach him how to solve quadratics. Therefore, you will be expelled. As a final note about the tests, the final test was held Friday. The college teacher decided that too many students were cheaters and it had to be proctored by one of the members of her department, and arranged for this, less than one week prior to the test, while making many changes in how the test was to be done.

The test was also given in a computer lab that, on the day of the test, had massive computer issues and wi-fi failures (only the laptops could be used and there were no hardwire hookups), so no one knows what answers they did or did not submit as the online-only program kept crashing on them. This is considered “not her problem” and is their fault entirely, according to a statement she is reported to have made.

This college teacher also has other black marks on her, in my book. She decided that the math teacher the high school provided for dual enrollment was insufficiently qualified (probable, given our high school) to teach college algebra, and would not permit him any course material and said that she would not allow him to tutor the students or proctor tests. (I am exempt from her opinion about my tutoring as I am a private tutor and not a teacher.) When asked for help from students, she would respond to their emails (these kids are out of town so obviously they can’t come in for office hours without being truant for their high school classes) by saying that she had covered everything in the lectures and on the program and if they couldn’t figure it out from that, they were too stupid or lazy to be in her class. Another email she sent, that has been kept and printed out, has her calling all the high school students imbecilic cretins and cheaters.

The kid I tutored was getting 30-50’s in her class. I got him up to an 87 on the second to last test, but it was too little too late, and while I tried to cover an entire semester of college algebra in three days, he got an eventual 43% on the final, at least in part, I think, given how well he was doing the night before, to the fact that his test kept crashing and reloading on him throughout the final.

Now, grades are already in, with the majority of student failed or kicked out of the program for academic dishonesty. The program for high school kids says that any who failed or were expelled for cheating are not allowed any further college courses until the summer, and that this is on their permanent record until they pass the class with no cheating. This also affects their ability to graduate from high school, though many of them are going to be ok with that. This can cause great academic harm to the kids.

So now I come to my question: What is the ethical response for me to make as a private tutor? What is the ethical response of the families of these students, one of whom is asking my opinion on what they should do?

***

I’m back.

My reaction is this: I hereby volunteer to consult with you and anyone else in the community as you move forward.The community needs to organize, gather data and evidence, and meet with the college administrator, with the stick being a full expose to a reporter, local or national. This is a fight, and if the children’s welfare and psychic well-being matter, it has to be fought.

Other responses are, as always, solicited and welcome.

6 thoughts on “Comments Of The Day, As “The Monday Friday Open Forum” Became The Ethics Alarms Mailbag

  1. As someone who has taught at the community college level I know that such a teacher would not be tolerated.
    I wonder how long this has been going on and if the teacher is tenured. If tenured the blame lies with the administration and division chair who allow this to continue.

    I have witnessed high school math teachers who believe they are teaching at MIT and demand their method is the only method. I have come to the conclusion that this teacher is incompetent and is using these rules to prevent this person’s incompetence from being exposed.

    Different teachers teach different methods to factor polynomials, solve for x or approach quadratic expressions. Apparently this person mimics a method learned and does not actually understand the process.

    Make a stink – a big stink.

    • This happened mid-week and I immediately thought of the Friday open forum (that I had to wait until Monday for). My thoughts mirror yours, but I intentionally left out my opinions as to not influence the discussion. I wanted to see what others said about the situation.

  2. As a math major in college, I find this instructor totally inept. The job of the teacher is to teach each student and not all students learn the same. As much as I would fire the teacher, I would also fire the department head for allowing the subject to be taught via zoom and then not allowing adequate time for the lectures. My experience is that a lecture in math requires a dialogue not a monologue because the critical reasoning required in math is developed through a directed instructional give and take. I know that our educational systems are going to hell in a handbasket but putting the students in hell before they even start and then having it on their record forever is despicable. Torture is too good for these so called educators.

  3. It’s outrageous and every parent whose child was mistreated because of these cruel and unreasonable standards should yell as loudly and as publicly as they can.

    Prior to the pandemic, my employer had extremely strict work-at-home standards. To avoid distractions, employees who worked at home were not permitted to pull children or elderly parents out of daycare, for instance, and the work had to be done in a private room with a door that could be shut in order to prevent relatives from walking past the open computer and spying confidential information. Company management was permitted to make random visits in order to ensure compliance. Those who answered phone calls had to make sure that noise was minimized, up to and including making sure dogs were secured and kept quiet (not an easy task for the employee whose dog was perfectly fine until the day a random door-to-door salesman rang the doorbell that set the dog off barking).

    But the pandemic forced everyone home and there are, no doubt, employees with set-ups on their dining room tables. With children kept from in-person learning, there are certainly kids running around the home during working hours. While we must try to be as professional as possible, the company has been forced to accommodate these unique circumstances.

    I work for a well-known nation-wide company and even I am not penalized if there’s an internet or power outage in my area…which has happened more than once in the last nine months. Both the parents and the high school need to make a big stink because their kids – who just want to learn college-level math, for Heaven’s sake, are being treated unjustly.

  4. To Jack and to all others who gave advice to me and my student, thank you, in the most effusive way. I was very busy last week, but the families have gotten together. Some of the more affluent ones are working to hire a lawyer. The families are working to see that all communications that have previously been printed out are being gathered. Unfortunately, the day after the finals, the instructor, who is the tenured head of the math department, deleted all communications, which were through the program she had complete control over (emails were actually messages through the program, I learned). Most of the evidence has been deleted, so it is only what the students printed off or took screen shots of, but there are enough of those to at least get people’s attention. The collection of families is still gathering data, but one of them is related to a trustee, another is in a similar social circle to the president of the college, and many of them are alumni. Finally, if we are not listened to, we have agreed that this whole mess is being dumped off, with supporting documents and agreements for interview, with several papers throughout the state. One of my main concerns was how far was too far with this catastrophe. Is getting lawyers or journalists (the blue collar versions of nuclear and chemical warfare) too much? It appears, from your responses, that we are not going overboard, considering the situation. Thank you, all of you. Your responses have been extremely helpful for us moving forward.

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