Harry Truman once said that the more power and authority you have the easier it is to hurt someone. Knowing that to be true, I make it a rule to avoid sarcasm or any negative feedback to students in my classrooms. I have tolerated, even encouraged disagreement and debate, and even when the arguments get pretty dumb, I have always followed the rule.
To the best of my knowledge there have only been two exceptions. One I regret, and the other I’m quite proud of.
I’m not going to talk about the one I regret, but I will tell you about the one I’m proud of.
It was in an evening leadership class at Louisiana State University – Shreveport. I was a guest lecturer in a program teaching leadership skills to public servants. There was one student in the class who was constantly disruptive. It was apparent he wasn’t singling me out for his rudeness, because every time he opened his mouth, which was very frequently, his classmates reacted.
I don’t remember exactly what I said; it was something about how to be successful, when he interrupted:
“That don’t have nothin’ to do with it,” he sneered . “The way to get ahead in this world is to have friends that count. I got friends that count!”
“Really!” I replied. “Some of my friends are already into addition and subtraction.”
With one exception the room erupted in laughter, and that was the last I heard from the troublemaker.