Bilbo sent me a link for a news article titled “Professor Makes Students ‘Stomp on Jesus’“. For those of you not sufficiently motivated to click the hyperlink I provided here’s the quick scoop: a prof at a university in Florida asked his students to write the word Jesus on a piece of paper in an communications class. He then instructed them to place it on the floor and stomp on it as a catalyst for a thoughtful discussion on the meaning of symbols. One Mormon student respectfully refused and was penalized. The student then went to the media and here we are talking about it.
I offered two responses which I shall quote here:
My declasse response is to say for the next assignment the professor and administration should lie on the floor in front of the students and the students should then be asked to stomp on them. Afterwards we can have a good discussion about why some students hesitated and others stomped.
Okay, this assignment should probably be in an ethics class rather than a communications class, but it still seems like a great idea. After all, you’re challenging people in a powerful and thought-provoking manner to consider the origin of their own moral intuitions.
Admittedly there is a downside: the administrators and faculty member could be injured. So perhaps we better shelve that idea. It’s okay to stomp a person’s beliefs but not their body.
But how about this idea for the psychology class: new Milgram experiments. You remember the Milgram experiments, don’t you? They were psychological tests to see to what extent people would capitulate to the directions of authority figures. So here’s what you do. Put a student in a room with a dial that says “Voltage” and tell them that another person is hooked up to a chair in the next room where they will receive electric shocks if the dial is turned. Then have an authority figure in a nice white lab coat with a clip board and a stern expression walk in and instruct the student to begin turning the dial higher and higher while screams and yowls erupt from the next room. It’s a great experiment because nobody actually gets hurt. There’s an actor in the next room, you see. Yeah, the student is traumatized, and some fuddy duddies once declared this kind of experiment “unethical”. But nobody really gets hurt, just like in the “stomp on Jesus” scenario. And it definitely is a great way to explore our tendency to submit to authority by following directions to do what we think is wrong, just like the stomp on Jesus exercise. So if stomp on Jesus gets the green light, the Milgram experiments should too.
Now for my second response:
My highbrow response would ask why the professor doesn’t try doing that assignment with the American flag. Because some symbols are still sacred apparently.
But perhaps the professor would direct the students to stomp on the flag. In that case I say we go all out. Have the students dress up like hippies, play Country Joe’s Woodstock classic “Feel like I’m fixin’ to die” (I’m sure one of the grey haired leftie administrators has a copy of the record in their collection) and have a good ole’ flag burning in the quad. And be sure to include a full page article on the day’s events in the next edition of the alumni magazine.