Danger signWhile I try to stay as positive as possible on this site, my commentary today about classroom behavior and safety necessarily deals with unpleasant classroom situations.

Currently circulating the web is an appalling video of a Florida Atlantic University classroom: in it, a student launches into a screaming, threatening tirade, lashing out at her professor and physically assaulting a fellow student. The disruptor was taken away by security, although her disruption seemed surprisingly lengthy before that point (some commenters on Inside Higher Ed note that the class should have been dismissed immediately for safety reasons). Of course, one could comment on the angry student, or on this campus’s and law enforcement’s reaction, or on how and to what degree a professor should deal with such alarming incidents. All topics are worthy of discussion in order to work toward curtailing these kinds of situations. I’ll simply comment on the incident from a standpoint of student interest.

First, I agree with other IHE commenters in that while I’m shocked at the tenor and length of the outburst, I’m perhaps equally disturbed by the students’ reaction: some began filming the episode and laughing (though some students did appear to leave the room, and at least one tried to calm her down). I’m neither a psychiatrist nor a criminologist, but I opine that in this case, too many students didn’t seem to recognize the potential danger or take the enraged person seriously, and rather, in their immaturity, they seem to have thought this kind of behavior to be acceptable or, at least, somewhat entertaining (!).

I hope I’m wrong about this. Otherwise, what is the purpose of a classroom? Of any institution of higher learning? And is this borne out of such outrageous behavior being accepted, to any degree, in K-12 classrooms? I dearly hope not, as I strongly believe that although “control” can be established many ways, if the instructor does not have control of the classroom – or, put another way, if the classroom environment is not a professional, safe place of integrity – learning cannot occur.

And a classroom is for learning. Period. True, no one can predict human behavior, and we occasionally may encounter a student who aggressively vies to gain control of the classroom. I’ve experienced shades of this myself at the community college, and because I was concerned about safety, have been compelled to call campus security a couple of times. It may be sad, but it’s reality: because of a (very) few individuals’ behavior, faculty and students alike should be well acquainted with emergency services, phone numbers and procedures if they spend any time on campus.

Also, students should recognize such behavior certainly is never acceptable and certainly is never humorous: learners have a right to a civil and professional classroom environment and a responsibility to treat others professionally 100% of the time. Absolutely nothing excuses disruptive, threatening, hostile behavior in the classroom.

Article about this incident: “Class Problem,” Kaustuv Basu, Inside Higher Ed, 3/26/12.

Image via mrg.bz / tyson

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