Saturday, January 11, 2014

Blurred Lines: An Invitation to Discuss Boundary Formation and Management for Teachers

Guest Blogger: James Wadley

In spring, 2013, Robin Thicke, Pharell, and TI released the chart topping song, “Blurred Lines” which discusses the courtship intentions for a woman who is currently in a romantic relationship with another man.  The premise of the song suggests that the woman is a “good girl” but that she wants to get “nasty” (sexually provocative) and be with the relevant suitor.  The concept of blurred lines also extends itself to teaching and education.
Some teachers struggle with their own blurred lines as it relates to their role as an educator for their students.  Because of the personal, emotional, institutional, programmatic and sometimes financial investment in students, teachers may become attached to their students in a manner in which they may not have anticipated.  This attachment pattern may come in the form of potentially inappropriate boundary violations including hugging students, giving gifts, curricular (e.g. discussion of morally and emotionally charged issues with vulnerable populations) and temporal infractions (e.g., providing one or more students with more time than others), emotional and power infringements, or improper communication (e.g., discussing or offering advice on personal issues) with students. 
Typically, colleges and universities address traditional boundary violations with policies that may address various forms of sexual harassment, coercion, and debilitative interpersonal relationships.  Oftentimes though, the teacher-student relationship evolves beyond conventional expectations and teachers find themselves extending their educational relationship beyond assumed parameters within and outside the classroom.  Policies typically don’t address the complexities of emotional and social navigation including dual relationships, codependence, and relational extraction.  Teachers are typically left to manage the educational, social, emotional, and cultural assumptions of themselves, their students, and the teacher-student relationship. 
In the light of the potential blurred lines that can develop between teachers and students, I extend an invitation to you to reflect and share about any of the following questions:
1. How do you build and maintain rapport with your students?
2. What personal information do you feel comfortable sharing with students?
3. Based upon your experience or what other teachers have shared with you, when do lines become blurred with students?
Finally, for amusement, below is a video link of last summer’s sensation, “Blurred Lines.”  :)


  1. The Blurred Line

    I am writing as a casual observer of what is happening on both sides of a blurred line. I enjoy watching our young people laugh, smile, throw friendly insults at each other, and point a sense of admiration and puerile frustration, watching their professor from a distance.

    Some of their attitudes towards each other spill over to the professor who, like a loner-student being chuckled at for not being within the inner sparks of male and female relationships, wrapping circles around the professor with their taunts and hidden smiles that keep the warmth and connectivity within the classroom. I believe blurred relationships in the classroom are good for the appetite and the spirit of love. These informal relationships resonate with classroom love and delicacy of affection with a friendliness that tantalizes and provokes youthful exuberance, free from the seriousness of a real love affair.

    The blurred line has a role in the classroom that helps sustain youthful thinking and attitudes. Flirting in the classroom between students and a professor keeps the ambience conducive to better lines of communication among all students. Students are happier because they flirted without the throes of a serious one-and-one relationship that ended with a broken heart. The blurred line is the safety retreat for bonding with the professor, knowing that a hug could come at any time it is needed. The blurred line is mutually satisfying.

    Ganga Ramdas,
    Professor of Business and Economics

  2. I need to add a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, in one of his sermons that I listened to while on a visit to a memorial shrine in Atlanta Georgia in Spring 2011. He said,

    "a broken heart is not physical, it represents an exhaustion of the spirit."

    Ganga Ramdas

  3. I wonder whether some of these preceding comments and observations by James and Ganga are autobiographical in any way.

    Here are my answers to the initial questions:

    1. How do you build and maintain rapport with your students?
    A: I don't even try; I merely teach as well as I can and grade as fairly as I can.

    2. What personal information do you feel comfortable sharing with students?
    A: None, except when it is relevant to the topic or class.

    3. Based upon your experience or what other teachers have shared with you, when do lines become blurred with students?
    A: When teachers act as more or other than what they are, i.e. teachers.

    Remember 'Higher Ground' by Stevie Wonder:

    Teachers keep on teachin'
    Preachers keep on preachin'
    World keep on turnin'
    Cause it won't be too long
    Oh no

    Lovers keep on lovin'
    Believers keep on believin'
    Sleepers just stop sleepin'
    Cause it won't be too long
    Oh no

    I'm so glad that he let me try it again
    Cause my last time on earth I lived a whole world of sin
    I'm so glad that I know more than I knew then
    Gonna keep on tryin'
    Till I reach my highest ground...Whew!

    Till I reach my highest ground
    No one's gonna bring me down
    Oh no
    Till I reach my highest ground
    Don't let nobody bring you down (they'll sho 'nuff try)

    Safro Kwame

  4. James and all, this has been a very interesting (and poetic) conversation!

    I was just reading a review of a book on teaching and social justice issues, and one of the principles of the book was "Teaching is an act of love." James' initial posting and the following comments made me think how complicated that idea really is. How do we normally show love: physical affection, playful flirting, gifts, extra attention. But many would say that all of those things--even the flirting that Ganga sees as conducive to learning-- cross the line. So as teachers, by definition almost, we "love" our students but are restricted from showing that love in the typical ways. Maybe it comes back to Kwame's comment that all we can do is give them the gift of our best teaching.

  5. Study: Sex makes people smarter
    Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) - ‎Jan 15, 2014

    Does this news report, below, change the conversation from “Blurred Lines.” to “Crossed Lines,” given that teachers want to make their students smarter and there are creative ways of incorporating this research into one's pedagogy or lesson plan?

    How Sex Affects Intelligence
    The Atlantic, Jan 13, 2014

    Forget mindfulness meditation, computerized working-memory training, and learning a musical instrument; all methods recently shown by scientists to increase intelligence. There could be an easier answer. It turns out that sex might actually make you smarter.

    Researchers in Maryland and South Korea recently found that sexual activity in mice and rats improves mental performance and increases neurogenesis (the production of new neurons) in the hippocampus, where long-term memories are formed.

    Study: Sex makes people smarter

    Sexual activity counteracts the suppressive effects of chronic stress on adult hippocampal neurogenesis and recognition memory.
    Brain Res. 2013 Nov 13;1538:26-40. Epub 2013 Sep 13.
    South Korea Study

    Sexual experience restores age-related decline in adult neurogenesis and hippocampal function.
    Hippocampus. 2013 Apr;23(4):303-12. Epub 2013 Mar 5.
    American Study

    Safro Kwame