Doin' the Jesus Stomp

[Amazon Link] Gosh, this story has "red meat" written all over it.

A Florida professor and high-ranking member of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party recently instructed his students to take out a piece of paper, write “JESUS” on it, then put it on the floor and stomp on it – and the Mormon student who refused to do so, calling the assignment morally offensive – was suspended.

The article goes on to identify this activity as coming from the text “Intercultural Communication: A Contextual Approach, 5th Edition,” and (if you haven't blocked Pun Salad ads) you can see over there on the right that it's an actual book selling for $45.49 at Amazon. List price $89.00. For a paperback. The author is James W. Neuliep. And it's already accumulating some funny reviews. ("A Jesus stomping good time!")

But what does the book actually say? You can find just about anything on the Web. Here is, I think, the source of the "exercise", probably from a previous edition of the text:

This exercise is a bit sensitive, but really drives home the point that even though symbols are arbitrary, they take on very strong and emotional meanings. Have the students write the name JESUS in big letters on a piece of paper. Ask the students to stand up and put the paper on the floor in front of them with the name facing up. Ask the students to think about it for a moment. After a brief period of silence, instruct them to step on the paper. Most will hesitate. Ask why they can’t step on the paper. Discuss the importance of symbols in culture.

Note what it doesn't say: "Suspend any student who refuses to stomp on Jesus." In fact, the exercise seems to assume that some students will refuse.

Other accounts clarify that other students did refuse to do the Jesus Stomp. But the student in question griped further about it to higher-ups, and he was reportedly suspended from the class for his trouble.

There are multiple layers of stupid here.

  1. The first is with the exercise. The choice of "JESUS" ("in big letters") is trite and convenient. The alleged point is trivial: symbols have "importance" in "culture" and "take on very strong and emotional meanings." Duh.

    There's also an implict unmentioned "lesson" for the Christians in the classroom: your attachment to your "arbitrary" symbol is irrational and silly; get over it.

    But there's also one more component to the exercise that the description (probably disingenuously) ignores: students are directed to engage in their own symbolic act: a public display of extreme disrespect for a "symbol", under orders of an authority figure, the class instructor.

    There's a lesson to be learned there: do what you're told and shut up.

    Suggested exercise: install a dartboard in the classroom with a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. on it. Have the students take turns throwing darts.

    My guess at the result: a set (but a different set) of students will refuse to do that; at least one will complain to the administration; those students will not be suspended, but the instructor probably will.

    Similar exercise, an entirely different lesson learned.

  2. The second layer of stupid: the class instructor, who thought this was a great idea. Hey, it's less work than actually trying to convey abstract concepts, encourage rational thought, and making relevant distinctions.

  3. The third layer of stupid: whoever suspended the kid from the class when he complained. Escalating a simple (justified) complaint into an punishable offense? Really? They couldn't see this reaction coming?

  4. And finally, stupid layer number four: a system of higher education where useless bullshit courses like this are taught by undergifted instructors out of vapid $45.49-for-the-paperback textbooks. This is yet another symptom of what Glenn Reynolds and others call the "higher education bubble." Friends, it can't pop soon enough.

Last Modified 2013-06-19 1:26 PM EDT