Last Thursday, while eating breakfast with some students who were set to graduate that evening, several asked me if I ever looked at the website, “Rate my professor” -designed to assist students in choosing good (easy?) professors- to find out what students were saying about me. This is not the first time I have been asked this question and my response is generally along the lines of, “No, what is the point? In fact, please go on and talk shit about me so my classes will stay smaller.” Yet this is the short answer. This blog entry will provide you with the long one and you will know why I believe such a site should be taken with a grain of salt at best. In the end, feel free to rate this blogger.
Human beings are fascinating creatures. We are likely the only ones that are capable of both great acts of selfless altruism (think Mother Theresa and Ghandi) as well as great acts of atrocities (think Boston marathon bombers and Hitler, not necessarily in that order). We are the species that will sacrifice our lives to help others while also being capable of killing innocent children for no good reason –yet I cannot think a good reason to ever kill a child, our species has groups, extreme Islamic fundamentalists and psychotics, that may argue otherwise.
A scary and mysterious breed we are indeed.
I believe there are two concepts that are great predictors as to whether our collective altruistic side OR our dark side will manifest itself. The first is the idea of ACCOUNTABILITY. When we are held accountable to our ideas and actions we tend to think through them with much greater scrutiny and consideration. With few exceptions (Nazi Germany being a main one) when we must share our plans and opinions, such sharing will bring about critical analysis and with this analysis comes a greater accountability and likelihood of an effective outcome.
You know, like if I decide to share my plan of action to shoot up the local elementary school with my recovery group, someone will likely opine that this is a really, really bad idea.
Study after study (see Social Facilitation Theory) demonstrates the improved performance of collaborative over individual decision-making. Question: If one wants to improve a performance in ANY given area of life? It’s easy…have an audience. We do better when others are watching.
As far as we know, the Unabomber, Boston marathon bombers, Timothy MacVeigh or Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro did not work by democratic committee. Such atrocious acts are usually the result of an individual or small group of like-minded individuals, spending too much time in their isolated own head(s) conjuring up schemes without having to express said schemes to any opposing entities for an alternative opinion.
What does this have to do with rate my professor? Patience dear reader.
Likewise, when one is held accountable and their plans and ideas are revealed to the masses, plans tend to flow in the opposite direction. Professional athletes hire publicists to ensure their plans to donate thousands of dollars are well documented while reporters are conveniently available when acts of kindness are performed.
Strong accountability continues to be both the strongest deterrent to really bad ideas as well as the greatest motivator for really great ideas; namely ones of kindness and altruism.
The second idea is the opposite to the first and that is ANONYMITY. When human beings are able to work anonymously, the threat of very dangerous results looms ever so strongly. Yes, we do hear of the occasional very generous donor who gave anonymously to a cause, RARELY. In the great majority of cases of large generous donations, for example, not only is the person known, the building is also named after them. Conversely, when one is able to act under the guise of “anonymous,” our darker sides tend to rise to the top. Studies suggest that anonymity can be a real problem insofar as deviant behavior is concerned.
Perhaps the single greatest predictor of effective decision-making and ethical behavior is accountability. Conversely the greatest predictor in poor decision-making and unethical behavior is under the condition of anonymity.
Quite frankly, I am not interested in hearing the opinions of those who hide under the veil of anonymity. In my blogs I am not shy in offering my opinions, insights and beliefs and I will stand by them because I am accountable to them. You know who I am. Hell, my little cute picture of me with my handlebar mustache is right up there at the top right for your enjoyment. I will defend my words. Sometimes my words will be right; sometimes they will be wrong. Sometimes my words are well stated; sometimes they are, uh, how can I say it? Uhm, ah…NOT well stated.
In any case, these are my words and I stand by them and am held accountable to them. I care as much about anonymous people’s opinions as I do about eating or drinking something of unknown content that came in plain white packaging with no label of ingredients. It could be absolutely delightful or it could be poisonous and insidious; though, in either case, I am just NOT interested.
Hence, the very long road to “rate my professor” and my ponderings. Back when I was in college we had our version of “rate my professor” and that was sharing our opinions face to face with others. Unless we heard of a professor through the grapevine, we knew the source of the information and often we considered the source of the information before we considered the information itself…after all, the medium is the message.
You know, if it was the screw-off complaining of a prof you would ignore her -yet if it was a solid and trustworthy student, you listened very carefully.
To be blunt, people who act anonymously and are not held accountable drive me nuts. I love those who disagree with me on something I may have said or done, though have the decency AND THE BALLS to stand behind it and express disagreement! I love honesty. Anonymity has the tendency to turn fairly nice people rather mean, rather fast.
And feel free to disagree with me…yet you must provide your identity and email address. I would not have it any other way.
Oh, and my students said I apparently have a chili pepper after my name indicating I am hot. I suppose “rate my professor” may not be such a bad site after all. Wink.