Professors Sharing Student Papers – a plea

Over the past several years, social media has exploded as a driving medium for communication and discourse in across our contemporary culture. This is not a surprising statement. Due to the easy access and low barriers of social media, it is rather easy to have a presence in various places. One of the great benefits is having professors who are part of various schools and institutions having accounts on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. This allows them to add insightful notes on their fields of specialization, identify new research or discoveries, and interact with current trends. As this happens, social media is being used well.

TwitterTeachingHowever, some professors and educators are using part of their social media platforms to share their students’ papers through quotes, commentary, and other incisive critiques. In instances, professors are quoting directly from student papers and offering less than charitable thoughts…usually to a handful of ‘likes’, favorites, repostings, and/or replies from those who follow their posts. While the plaudits of the masses are always enjoyable and ego building, these kinds of actions are, ultimately, dangerous and harmful to the educational process.

There are a number of pseudonymous or anonymous social media accounts that started this trend, perhaps one of the earliest to do in my discipline (theology) is the Bible Students Say twitter account. Others have arisen of the kind and the interactions caught a lot of attention. The tweets were edgy and often funny or ironic quotes from students, yet under the veneer of anonymity many seemed to be okay with that kind of posting. At some point over the past several years it became acceptable for faculty members and professors to imitate these accounts, but under their public profiles. Now, it seems, one can easily note when the high points of the semester by the quotations of student papers in various professorial social media accounts.

This trend is not a good one. Thankfully having never seen any of my own paper quotes out in social media, I have heard of some students who have had some of their papers quoted…and then read the, sadly, expected chiding and churlish interactions and replies from others on social media. Recently, over the past several months, I’ve noticed some professors who have ceased doing this, but others who have increased up their posts. A second aspect of this trend is professors complaining about the nature of student papers, without direct quotes, and the lack of educational refinement or gaps in the students’ work.laughing

My thought behind this is simple: Please stop posting student paper quotes and content, please stop commenting on the “drudgery” of grading them, and please stop chiding your students over public social media about being…well, students.

After thinking over this issue for a while, my greatest objection to this is that the behavior of professors who engage in these is, ultimately, a violation of the informal professor-student compact. Students are learners, they don’t know everything on a topic and are most assuredly in process of development. Professors are given the great task of helping forming students intellectually and relationally for the world. To take sections or sentences from their papers and post them publicly, almost always to shame them or make fun of their incomplete thoughts, violates this compact.

If professors would go back and read their undergraduate and early graduate work they would bristle and roll their eyes at things they said, conclusions they made, argumentation process laid out, and even poor methodologies. Part of being a student is the confidence and trust that your professor will graciously hear you out, offer correctives, and help move you forward as a student. If a professor were to stand up in class and read aloud of papers of students while others listened we would cringe; doing it on social media is no different.

Another point is that complaining about the grading process is not enduring to anyone else. As a professor grading is a necessary and expected part of your role in the lives of your institution and student body. They need your feedback. As someone who has little desire to enter the academic world, I also see it as trite and unbecoming of a seasoned academic professional. You have a career that many aspire to, yet it is treated with disdain. My encouragement would be to refrain from letting us know how badly your students are doing, because they are a reflection of an increasingly broken higher education system and your teaching style.

There are some wonderful discussions about how to use social media to interact with and help your student, advice and tips to add to this engagement, and also helpful points about the limitations of what can be shared on social media. Many good things can be accomplished through social media. Students are benefited by access to discussions with professors and even seeing how their educators are actually normal people. Yet in all of this there is a darker side that can lead us to harm relationship between professors and students. Just as a pastor would be negligent in posting the detailed counseling conversations with others, or a priest the sins heard in the confessional, a doctor in discussing a patient’s lifestyle or health, professors need to be reticent in posting harmful or hurtful information about their students. You have a wonderful and amazing task: to shape and develop the next generation. Steward that task well and we are all beneficiaries.

So, what do you say?

Jun 2016



Ghost Writing: Modern Day Pseudepigrapha

One of the lingering challenges to a high view of Scripture is the criticism that some of the books of the Bible are written by people other than the named authors.

Most notably, the New Testament books of 1 & 2 Timothy are often considered to have been written by someone other than the Apostle Paul. Likewise, sections (if not the entirety) of the Pentateuch are thought to be written by someone(s) other than Moses. Of course for those of us familiar with the larger picture of biblical studies, this objection is neither new nor awfully pertinent.

However, it still get made and is a staple in the New Atheist salvo against Christianity.

The objection usually goes: well some of the books of the Bible clearly are not written by their purported authors, but were written much later than the authors’ lives by people knowingly deceiving the audiences who received these books. Therefore, the Bible is full of false information and even deceitful claims.

Thus, the Bible cannot be trusted.

This argument has been around for quite some time (in fact you can actually trace it back to an early articulation during the patristic period.) So, what about it? Well, for starters the contemporary claim rests on present day assumptions about truthfulness and accuracy in reporting. We live in a world where journalistic and authors regularly fact check their work and “always” sign their names on the pieces they’ve offered.

Until they don’t.

One of the counter-examples which is most easily articulated are the cases of ghost writers who collaborate with celebrities, politicians, thinkers, and others to produce works under the name of the other person. We see these works on the shelves of our bookstores and displayed on our favorite online retailer under the name of the celebrity, often without attribution to the ghost writer. When we buy them and read them, we have no expectation that the work isn’t from that personality. The words are just as efficacious in communicating to us what we believe to be authentic words from that personality.

Even if one admits to this kind of crafting of biblical texts (I actually affirm traditional authorship of the New Testament books) there isn’t an inherently deceitful practice going on. In fact, in this era ghost written (the technical term is pseudepigrapha) works proliferated within literature. There are plenty of examples of texts that clearly couldn’t be from an attributed author, but are largely accepted as authentic and credible. Some of these works include, The Book of Abraham, 1 & 2 Enoch, The Revelation of Moses, The Gospel of Judas, and others, or you can click here to see some actual texts.

If these biblical texts were authored by someone other than the purported author it would have always been by a close associate or pupil. Present day scholars would need demonstrate cases where it clearly wasn’t by someone closely related to this figure. Likewise, even if this claim is true for some of the books (clearly not all the New Testament books are considered suspicious) it does not diminish the reality of the inspiration for that author. No present day scholar can realistically challenge that statement.

Of course we also should mention the use of secretaries in the authorship of most of the New Testament books. But I’ll do that elsewhere. In the meantime, check out this link.

So, when someone attempts to discredit the Bible based on the argument of false authorship, they have no ground to stand on as a claim against Christianity.

Jun 2013

Apologetics, Theology