The injustice of laptop rules in lecture

    No laptops for you! Photo by Daniel Schuleman / North by Northwestern.

    No laptops for you! Photo by Daniel Schuleman / North by Northwestern.

    The first week of school is an amazing time of year.  You’ve partied too much and see class as the perfect alleviator of guilt.  You don’t mind attending the first days of class because you’ll spend time on the web as the professor drudges through a syllabus you’ve heard dozens of times before.  Course readings?  You’ll buy them.  Grading scale?  Sure, 93 makes an A.  Academic Integrity? No ma’am,  cheating is one of the seven sins. 

    But then the professor drops an atomic bomb on the lecture hall.  It hits you harder than your girlfriend after she caught you cheating.  It’s the rule that we as students all despise.  The dreaded print reads: 

    “No computers during lecture.  Thank you.”

    Thank you?  Really, that’s it?  That’s all you’re going to say?  How about “Sorry for my draconian essence and my lack of faith in your self-discipline, but I expect you come to my class despite my horrendous monotone.”  That’s better.   We pay such a hefty tuition to Northwestern that it seems justified that we can watch silent porn in between lecture slides if we so choose.

    It’s time to abolish absurdity and usher in understanding.  Northwestern students are some of the most talented, thoughtful, disciplined young men and women of our generation.  We spent years in classrooms, on athletic teams, in a capella groups, on dance crews, in science labs, and yes, on the Internet.  Each year the admissions office carefully carves a class composed of diverse individuals, but one thing we all have in common is the ability to balance our priorities and discipline ourselves.  We have the ability to sit in a lecture hall and learn while still online shopping, lamenting over the loss of an NBA season or fantasizing about Kate Upton.

    By asking students to abolish the use of computers, professors undermine the most sacred goal of attending a university: to gain the ability to think for ourselves, to determine what is true and what is not true, to test our boundaries, to learn to live independently.  We make our own decisions here, and we live with the consequences.  If the professor tells me to get off my computer, I might drop his class.  But if I get a C in his class because I chose to screw around on Facebook, I’ll definitely drop the computer.  Free will is something that can’t be messed with.

    The debate about what constitutes true learning can fall down a slippery slope if we say students ought to be allowed to use their laptops in class.  From here one could assert that homework shouldn’t be collected or tests need not be graded.  Professors cite laptops as an absorber of attention that could otherwise be directed to learning the material.

    Traditional forms of measurement in academia do not need revision; tests, homework and papers are all valid forms of measurement in every sphere of learning, and shouldn’t be tinkered with.  They provide us with the opportunity to create and sustain our own genuine ideas instead of just numbingly processing those of a professor or guest lecturer.

    But forced abolition of laptops takes it one step over the line.  Whereas homework and tests force us to regurgitate our knowledge, demanding that students pay attention is a funneling tactic that dictates when we learn, not how we learn.  Northwestern students have clear knowledge retaining talents, but mandating the time during which we must pay attention is hyper and destructive.  It detracts from the natural drive we hold inside ourselves.  Instead of trusting that we will extract enough of the lecture to pass a test or produce an essay, it demands that we drop all distractions at the wayside and pay attention at that very moment.  It undercuts our freedom as adults.

    If we choose to skip class or to toil on our laptop in lieu of paying attention, we should have that prerogative.  That isn’t to say students should be allowed to get up and grind on one another in Keg fashion during Calculus or roll a joint in Russian literature, but web surfing is as harmless as a flock of frolicking bright butterflies.  Rules are necessary, but attempting to micromanage intelligent young adults is not.

    Learning at Northwestern is something that isn’t done exclusively in the form of lecture slides and exams.  We’ve earned and ought to receive freedom when it comes to managing our time and energy.  Now let me Stumble!


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