Wednesday, October 31, 2012

What's Wrong with High School Math

I am an occasional contributor to the local weekly "The Jewish Post", and last year Bernie (the editor) published an article I wrote about high school math. Usually he reposts my articles on his website, but I noticed that this one doesn't appear. So I thought I'd put it up on my blog. I think it's a pretty good article.

What's Wrong with High School Math

I used to be the math guy on Channel 11. It was twenty years ago, and community access TV was a platform for kooks of all stripes to do their thing in front of a TV audience, and my “thing” was math. I started my show because I didn’t like the way math was taught in university, and I thought I could show by example that there was a better way to do things. Instead of teaching math as a set of rules to be followed in order to get correct answers, I wanted to show math as a way of looking at the world so that things made sense. In its three years on the air, my show had at least some success in that my presentations seemed to resonate with quite a few viewers, and not only for their quirkiness; on the other hand, I’m quite sure I had zero impact on the way math was taught in university.

Last year I went back to university to certify as a high school teacher. I didn’t last long: after repeatedly arguing with my professors, I was unceremoniously drummed out of the program after only ten weeks. But in that short time, I was appalled by what I saw going on in the schools. I know there has been a lot of public debate recently over “back to the basics” and the lack of basic literacy in math, but my issues with the system are a little different. This is article is about what I saw.

I am not so much interested in the nuts-and-bolts problem of instilling skills of manipulation in very young children. I am more concerned about what I might call the spiritual consequences of the way math is taught in the senior years.  To understand what I mean, let’s look at the reasons why math is supposedly important:

1. It teaches you how to think.
2. It provides important skills needed in everyday life.
3. “In today’s high-tech global economy”…well, you know the rest.

I’m going to go way out on a limb here and say these are bad reasons to teach math in high school. Let’s put aside for the moment the 5% of graduates who will go on to careers in the technical fields: not because I am willing to concede that they are well-served by the present system, but because the problem of high-tech education is too vast to deal with in this short article. I want to talk now about the 95% of students who won’t  become engineers or scientists. Why do they need to learn how to factor polynomials? Is it worth the cost in human suffering? Because surely only the scourge of acne can rival math as a cause of suffering among teenagers. How do we justify it?

We routinely justify it by reciting the three reasons listed above, but I find them very hard to take seriously. Does anyone seriously believe that mathematical reasoning is of any use in working out solutions to the ordinary problems of daily life: relationships, jobs, happiness or whatever? Even such iconic problems as rent-vs-buy, or how fast to pay down your mortgage…those are lifestyle choices that people will inevitably make for reasons that have very little to do with the the textbook “present-value” calculations that they may be taught in school. No, there is a fourth reason why we teach math, an unspoken reason:

4. We teach math because when we were young, we suffered through it: then, as we grew older, we validated that suffering by convincing ourselves in retrospect that it was “good for us”. And if it was good for us, it will be good for our children.

The pervasiveness of this attitude explains everything that is wrong with math teaching in high school. It explains why you’re not supposed to enjoy math, and it explains why it is alright to forget everything you learned the day after the final exam.

Mostly, it explains why you need to memorize algorithms to get the right answer even if you don’t know what you’re doing. Because the big, soul-crushing lesson students learn from high school math is that you will only succede if you follow directions. If you try to think for yourself, to ask why you need to do what you’ve been told, you will surely fail. 

Yes, high school math does teach you how to think. That’s what scares the s*** out of me.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

I want my project back

Back in January, when I was being kicked out of school and barred from the property, one of the lesser consequences of the overall drama was the matter of a few items of personal property, including three assignments and two projects, that remained stranded at the University. One of the projects was a "bulletin board" that I had put quite a lot of work into and had some fun with. Unable to return to the campus to retrieve it, I wrote the Vice President listing all the outstanding items and asking for his assistance in having them returned. The VP replied, indicating a willingness to return my personal property, but all subsequent attempts on my part to make arrangments to identify the projects in question were ignored.

Last month I initiated civil procedings against the University over my removal from the program, and it occured to me that they still hadn't returned the items they were holding. So I wrote them an email, copying it to the VP, the Registrar, the President (Lloyd Axworthy), the Dean of Education, etc. Someone must have lit a fire under the Registrar's hind quarters, because this time he responded only a week later. He had two of the five assignments, but had consulted with Professor Metz over the other three items and reported back that while acknowledging the Bulletin Board, the Professor had no recollection of assigning us any projects.

There was still one assignment unaccounted for: the bulletin board. It seems Prof. Metz was claiming that he had not marked it because it was incomplete. It seems there was also a one-page write-up to go along with the project that I had neglected to submit. In any case, He said I would have retrieved it in the Fall term, before the Christmas Break.

Actually, the Bulletin Board was submitted the first week of January. I looked in my Sent Items mailbox from last January and there was the write-up. If Prof. Metz never got it, it's not because I didn't send it. So I wrote the Registrar back, telling him that I had indeed completed the assingment, that I was re-copying the written portion to Prof. Metz, and that I still wanted it marked.

Then I looked over the Registrar's letter one more time, and I realized that Prof. Metz was in fact a fountain of misinformation. He had made three mistakes in one short paragraph. So I wrote the Registrar again, copying it of course to the President, the Dean, etc. and of course to Prof. Metz as well:

I have noted the following two errors in the information you received from Prof. Metz:
1. Contrary to his assertion, the written portion of Ass't 5. was emailed to him on January 11th.
2. Contrary to his assertion, there were various projects assigned us through the term, including the two which I would like returned.
I now note a third error on the part of Prof. Metz:
3. Contrary to his assertion, the Bulletin Board project was submitted in the first week of the winter term, not in the fall term.
In view of the number of errors made by Professor Metz in such a short space, I wonder if you would want to reconsider the reliability of the information you used in deciding to expel me from the Education program, in light of the fact that much of that information came from this same Prof. Metz.
That was over a week ago, and I haven't heard from them since.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Conspiracy to Injure

When I last wrote about my legal case, I told you that I was seeking damages under the tort of Conspiracy to Injure. (You can read my complete Statement of Claim online here.) Today I'm going to explain just a little bit about what is involved in an action for conspiracy.

I believe I am not far off the mark in suggesting that the civil tort of conspiracy (as opposed to the charge of conspiracy under criminal law) came into its own in the modern era in the formative years of the labor movement. A strike, to put it simply, is an attempt by the workers to put pressure on the company by making it difficult for the company to carry on its business. The beauty of the strike as a weapon is that every individual worker is free to choose whether or not he wishes to work on any given day. The only recourse the company has against a worker who chooses not to show up (beyond simply not paying his wages) is to refuse to allow that worker to return to his job should he eventually change his mind. If the worker does not possess some exceptional skill that is very difficult to replace, the threat or act of refusing to work is not an effective bargaining tool.

Unless, of course, all the workers decide to exercise that choice at the same time. Then the employer has a problem. He can try to hire replacement workers, but that can be difficult and time consuming. One option explored by employers in the early days of the union movement was to bring civil action against the workers for conspiracy. The claim was that the decision to not work, while not actionable if exercised by individual workers, became actionable if it was done en masse as part of an organized attempt to damage the company.

Is it really fair that you can be held accountable for actions that are perfectly legal, simply because you are acting in concert with a number of other people who are also behaving legally? That's what the law of conspiracy says. It may seem wrong, but the fact is that the group can exercise power far beyond what individuals acting on their own can do. The law simply recognizes that here and there are instances where the abuse of that power becomes so unfair as to demand legal remedy.

And so it was that initially, judges would find in favor of the company and awarded damages against the union. But that situation did not last long. With the passage of time, the courts found that the use of conspiracy laws against the workers was even more unfair than the alternative; and they formulated a new legal doctrine: that what is legal for the individual does not automatically become illegal when done en masse, unless it could be shown that the purpose of the action was specifically to cause damage to the struck party. The unions argued that their primary motivation was not to hurt the company, but to better the lot of the workers, and this argument was accepted by the courts. It essentially stands to this day as the guiding principle of the Tort of Conspiracy.

But that does not provide an excuse if the primary purpose of the conspiracy was not to promote its own legitimate interests, but to damage the interests of the other party. In  Cement Lafarge v BC Lightweight Aggregate (1983), Justice Estey of the Supreme Court of Canada summarized the law as follows:

Although the law concerning the scope of the tort of conspiracy is far from clear, I am of the opinion that whereas the law of tort does not permit an action against an individual defendant who has caused injury to the plaintiff, the law of torts does recognize a claim against them in combination as the tort of conspiracy if:
(1) whether the means used by the defendants are lawful or unlawful, the predominant purpose of the defendants' conduct is to cause injury to the plaintiff; or,
(2) where the conduct of the defendants is unlawful, the conduct is directed towards the plaintiff (alone or together with others), and the defendants should know in the circumstance
that injury to the plaintiff is likely to and does result.
It is under subsection (1) that I am claiming damages. It is not that the actions of those who injured me were of themselves illegal. It is that the predominant purpose of their actions was to injure me...or more precisely, that the predominant purpose of the conspiracy was to injure me.

Because it is not enough for me to show that each of the defendants individually wished to do me in. That in itself does not establish my cause of action. I must show not only that they acted to damage my interests, but that they did so with common purpose and agreement. It is not necessary for me to show that every individual defendant knew of or agreed with all of the actions against me. If a co-conspirator was linked only to one other co-conspirator, he is still a part of the conspiracy, even though his actions were limited. He doesn't need to know the full extent of the conspiracy.

There are several defences against the tort of conspiracy, and my opponents will most likely argue each one. They will probably argue that their individual actions were taken independently without knowledge of the intentions of the various other parties. They will undoubtedly argue that their actions were motivated primarily by a desire to protect the best interests of the students of Gordon Bell, and not to damage me personally.

I think they're going to have a hard time making those arguments stick.

Friday, October 19, 2012

About my chemistry project...

Last winter I told you how Professor Bush gave me an F on a major project, and the Registrar declined to process my request for an appeal. Over the next few months, I kept on asking the University to review the grade, and finally just this September the Registrar, while rejecting my request to argue the appeal in person with Prof. Bush in attendance,  agreed to send my written appeal on to the Department Committee.

Two weeks ago I got the response to my appeal. Not surprisingly, it was rejected in whole. I still think it was a pretty good project and I've posted it online so you can judge for yourself. You know it's really hard to get an F in Education: they generally mark on a curve, going from a high of A+ to a low of B. A grade of C would be a rarity, and an F is unheard of.

So how bad was my project? Well, you can see it was nineteen pages, so I don't think I skimped on length. The assignment to was produce a lesson cycle of three Science classes, and I chose Grade Eleven Chemistry. I included four lessons because I wanted one of them to be a lab (the prof asked for an "activity" to be included) and I found I needed four classes to set up sufficient background for the lab I wanted to do.

It's hard to see how I could get an F on this project. I did an awful lot of work; you'll  see that my project starts with an analysis of the whole curriculum for both Grade 10 and 11, so I could make sure that my lessons were on target with what the students already knew and what they were expected to learn over the course of the year. And yet the department's Review Committee makes no comment about the quality of my work. They say only that:

"...we believe that the expectations and evaluations of this course were well explained and transparent.  The final assignment...(was) marked accordingly, and this approach is consistent with Faculty practises. We therefore find no basis to uphold this challenge."

If you read between the lines, I think you will see that the Committee is saying that I got a failing grade because I failed to follow instructions. I don't know about that. I invite Professor Bush to post some examples of other projects where the students did follow instructions and see if their work was clearly different from mine. What I find a little disturbing is that while the Committee denied my request to argue the mark in person, they do not seem to have denied that privilege to Professor Bush. It is hard to see how they would have arrived at their written judgement independently unless those words were virtually put in their mouths by the professor. They certainly seem to have accepted someone's argument that the quality of the work was not a relevant factor to consider in assigning the mark.

I still think it was a pretty good assignment. The fact is, I agree that I'm a little bit sketchy when it comes to following instructions, because I don't like to be micro-managed. For that, I accept the fact that I may get lower grades than other people: where they are getting A's I expect B's or C's at the worst. I don't mind that. But an F is going pretty far, especially in Education where they mark on a "curve".

One other factor that nobody would agree to count in my favor: all the other students worked in groups, but I did my project alone. So I actually did three times as much work as everyone else. Why didn't I just join a group? Well, it's a little hard to find people willing to work with you when the professor has single you out as a troublemaker, the way Professor Bush did on several occasions. I didn't complain about the extra work, but I think it should have been recognized in the grade appeal.

Andby the way, to quote Professor Appel,  I wonder if it's "consistent with Faculty practises" to make a guy wait ten months to appeal a grade on a term paper?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

To quash or not to quash?

I started telling you about a week ago about the complex legal issues involved in filing a Statement of Claim. Let's have a look now at my own Statement of Claim and see how I've attempted to navigate around these problems.

I told you about the biggest problem with taking on the University. First, the courts expect you to follow the internal appeal process to the very end: you must "exhaust your internal remedies" before the court will even consider your claim. That can take months. And then, what you're supposed to do is ask for a Judicial Review of the findings: you can argue that the findings were made improperly, without due process, etc; and at the end of it all, if you are very, very lucky, the judge might possibly quash the findings of the University and...send you back for a brand new hearing! You'd be back in the same kangaroo court where you were screwed the first time, except this time they'd know enough to cross all the t's and dot all the i's. Because the judge quashed the verdict on procedural grounds, not issues of fact. All they have to do is go through the motions again with proper procedures.

The prospect of going through all the time, effort and expense of a court case just to be sent back to the star chamber...well, it was unbearable. So I came up with a different tack. The University made much of the charges of Non-Academic Misconduct. If you read through the entire sixteen pages of my Statement of Claim, you will see that I do not even mention the charges of misconduct! My entire claim is based on my removal from the practicum.

The University was well prepared to defend itself against legal action based on the misconduct proceedings. They did their best to follow all the steps laid out in their policy manual, so they would be able to defeat any "motion to quash" on strictly procedural grounds. But the Misconduct Proceedings were not officially launched until a day after I was removed from the Practicum. That was an ambush, pure and simple, and throughout the five months of follow-up proceedings, they never once even responded to my attempts to appeal the removal of my practicum privileges.

Now, you can't graduate from Education without a practicum. So in effect, I was kicked out of the program from that moment on. But the University continued to maintain the legal fiction that they were according me all of my due process rights, up until the moment my expulsion was ratified by the Board of Regents.

To be sure, they will attempt to make a legal argument that my removal from the Practicum was done in accordance with procedures. They have even cited a passage from the Certification Practicum Student Handbook which appears to grant them the power to do what they did. I indicate this in Paragraph 28 of my Statement of Claim. On paper, the School Prinicipal does indeed have that power.

The problem is that in practical terms, in order to exercise that power, there would have to be a general consensus by a number of people including the Dean of Education, the Principal, the supervising teacher, the Faculty Advisor, that such a removal was clearly warranted by the circumstances. It is inconceivable that the Principal could simply write a letter one day demanding removal of a student teacher, and no one would raise the slightest question as to why. And yet this is essentially what they did. How could it have happened?

The answer is that it could never have happened unless all those parties had gotten together in advance and agreed that it should be done. And that is what I am claiming: that there was a "conspiracy to injure" organized against me.

When we return, I'll talk a little bit about the Tort of Conspiracy.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Why I'm going to win this fight

Yesterday I posted a link to my Statement of Claim, and soon I'm going to talk about it in some more detail. But today I'd like to digress. I've been taking a lot of flak from some people about my attitude. One thing that people often throw in my face is the fact that I declined to attend an informal meeting called by the Dean to discuss the complaints against me.  I still think that was one of the smartest moves I made in this whole campaign.

People think I could have solved my problems amicably if I had just agreed to compromise early in the game. After all, what was the harm in going to a meeting?

What these people don't understand is that by this time, I was already dealing with vicious, unscrupulous enemies who were determined to do me in. At that time, I didn't know this either. I only had my instincts to guide me, and there was something in the tone of the Dean's correspondence that told me I should keep my guard up. So I simply requested that whatever proceedings were being contemplated against me, they ought to proceed by the book, according to the University policies. Since the meeting with the Dean was not part of the formal proceedings, I told the Dean it was not in my best interests to attend. 

I didn't tell him why it wasn't in my best interests, because it wasn't his business. But now I'm going to tell him. When powerful people get together to make malicious accusations against you, they are taking a bit of a risk. Their problem is that depending on how reckless they are, they might accuse you of something that you happen to be in a position to refute with solid evidence. That would be embarrassing to them. So what they try to do is fling a lot of mud at you and hope that some of it will stick. But they absolutely will not commit themselves.

That's why they don't want to put their case on paper. Once they've put it on paper, they're committed. Instead, they want to corner you in a meeting and probe you with this and that, watching your responses to see if they detect vulnerability. They get a sense of where you are confident and where you are on shaky ground. And understand, when I say you are on shaky ground, it doesn't necessarily mean that you have done something's just that you don't have any ready means of disproving the allegation, even though it may be false.

So the secret is to not respond to \anything until they've put it all on paper...and that means, their entire case. That was my strategy all along, and it frustrated the hell out of them, because it undermined their whole strategy of bait-and-switch. You don't think they would stoop to such dirty tactics? Check out the following excerpt from  the letter sent to the Dean by Professor David Bell, where, after accusing me of numerous unspecified instances of rude behavior, he states:

"I have more examples of inappropriate behavior if needed" (italics mine).

That's how these people work. Try flinging some mud, and if it doesn't stick, fling some more. That's why they got so frustrated when I refused to respond until I saw the complaints in writing.

Now they're about to go to court, and they still don't know what I know. They're committed to their side of the story, and they still don't know how I'm going to respond to their lies. The irony is that they had every opportunity to learn my side of the story, and they squandered it. Two days before my final appeal hearing before the Committee of the Board of Regents, I finally got them to release the written complaints. By any standards of due process and fair play, this was an outrage. How could I prepare an adequate response with so little time, especially since it had been five months since action against me was initiated? But despite this, I went to the meeting and attempted to tell my story.

The committee refused to listen! They had already decided that I would be given thirty minutes to speak, and despite my vehement protests, they cut me off long before I had finished. It was a flagrant abuse of power and it was completely unnecessary, because even if I spoke for three hours, they still intended to throw me out as soon as I was done. They cut me off simply because they couldn't pass up the chance to humiliate me face to face.

And so they still don't know what I'm going to say when we go to court. But I do. I know my side of the story and their side of the story. They'd like to go back to Professor Bell and get "more examples of inappropriate behavior" to shore up their case, but it's really too late for that. They threw me out on the basis of the case they put together way back when, and now they have to live or die by that case.

They made their bed, and now they have to lie in it.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

How to Write a Statement of Claim

I said yesterday that I would post my Statement of Claim, and here it is. The Statement of Claim is a critical element in any legal proceeding, and a lot of effort went into putting this together. I talked yesterday about how some of the more obvious approaches wouldn't work. Either I would end up with a long and pointeless process that would only bring me back to Sqaure One in the best case scenario, or the University would have the claim dismissed with cost before it even got to court. I believe the approach I am taking is sound, and I think the University is going to have a problem with it.

The Statement of Claim is sixteen pages long, so I think I'll let you look it over and then we can talk about it when I return.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Presence of Malice

After I was kicked out of school, I consulted several lawyers as to what my options were. They were pretty discouraging. The courts are very reluctant to get involved in the internal disciplinary processes of universities. The best hope that was offered me was that after "exhausting all my internal remedies", I might be allowed to petition the court to quash the university's verdict on procedural grounds. And all that would do would be to throw me right back into their clutches, where they could repeat the lynching a second time, making sure they dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's.

I thought I had come up with a different angle of attack when I proposed to one lawyer that I could sue for defamation those professors who went behind my back and wrote damning reports about me. There is a natural sort of "qualified immunity" that attaches to complaints of this type. The law recognizes that for business and organizations to function in terms of managing personnel, officers of those corporations must be allowed to write frank and critical evaluations which may be damaging to the subjects of those assessments. To successfully sue for defamation, a plaintiff must show that such judgements were not only false (because a person is entitled to make an honest mistake) but that they were malicious. And malice, being a state of mind, is notoriously difficult to prove.

This difficulty did not deter me. Having at last gotten access to the complaints against me, I could see the malice in every line, and I was confident that I could prove it in court, once I was allowed to tell my side of the story. I proceeded to work on a defamation claim. But in the course of my research, I learned something very disturbing. I was aware of the "qualified immunity" which attaches to complaints of this kind. And I knew that there was a stricter level of immunity associated with court procedings. You cannot sue someone for defamation if they say something about you in open court, as part of a judicial process. It's called "absolute immunity" and it applies even if you can show the accusations to be false and malicious. The theory is that your remedy should be in your right to challenge those allegations in cross examination or otherwise withing the court proceedings. It's considered a very strict principle of law, and it is even entrenched in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

What I didn't realize at first was that Professors Metz, Bell, and Cantor would be able to invoke this "abolute privilege" in defence of their accusations against me, no matter how false and malicious those accusations were. But how could that be, since there were never any court proceedings? The loophole is something very disturbing that has become entrenched in the common law over the last forty years or so, and it is the concept of a "quasi-judicial process". Presumably because of the huge backlog of the court system, judges have over a number of years shown themselves willing to delegate a quasi judicial status to all kinds of bodies that operate independently: the Labor Board, the Law Society and other professional bodies empowered to discipline their own members, the Medical Boards of hospitals which are empowered to discipline doctors and nurses etc. But no "quasi-judicial bodies" are given more deference by the courts than the disciplinary committees of universities.

Not only are the courts extermely reluctant to second-guess the universities on disciplinary matters, but they recognize the internal disciplinary process as having "quasi-judicial" status. And because of this, they extend "absolute privilege" to any testimony that submitted as part of such a process. What is most disturbing about this privileged status is that I have been unable to find any examples in the legal literature where the courts have held those disciplinary bodies up to any kind of standards to make sure that the rights of the accused are respected, as they are in the real courts. In the real court, if someone slanders you, you can cross-examine him and you can call your own witnesses to support your own story. There is no such right in the University of Winnipeg's star chamber.

But the most fundamental right of all, which you are guaranteed in the courts but not in the "quasi-judicial" world, is the right to know the accusations against you. This is the right I demanded repeatedly, and which the University scoffed at. And despite their denial of my right to even know what I was specifically accused of, let alone to respond to or cross examine my accusers....despite all this, the courts would almost undoubtedly (based on my extensive readings of case law) accord "absolute privilege" to my accusers, thereby denying me the opportunity to sue them for slander.

And yet here I am taking them to court, and defamation is a part of my claim. Why do I think I can get away with this? When we return I'm going to post my Statement of Claim and I'll explain to you how it all works.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Danny Blair Conducts an Impartial Investigation

For the last few days, I've been going over the letter of complaint submitted by Prof. Laurelyn Cantor. I think it should be clear to anyone that she had no business complaining to the Dean about an essay I wrote. Even if the contents of the essay raised legitimate concerns about my suitability to be a teacher, they were still entirely confidential. And even if she felt it was necessary to breach the trust of confidentiality for the sake of some higher purpose, she ought to have done so objectively, in a nuanced way, instead of by taking snatches of discussion out of context and playing them back to the Dean in such a way as to cast me in the worst possible light. As I have already said, she ought to be ashamed of herself.

What I haven't told you is how Professor Cantor's letter fell into my hands. It's an interesting story, because the University did everything in its power to hide the complaints from me. Although the complaints were written in October and November, and I was formally barred from the campus on January 11th, it wasn't until the 20th of March that I got to see the complaints. That was just two and a half days before I was to have my final chance to appeal the expulsion before the Student Disciplinary Appeals Committee.

The Chair of the committee, Grace O'Farrell, did not want me to see those reports. She wanted to convict me based on thirdhand hearsay consisting mainly of the findings of the Registrar, who had never heard my side of the story. This was the information she provided to the committee members as to the case against me. But without thinking it through, it seems she also included a copy of the Third Party Report which the Registrar had ordered prior to initiating official proceedings against me, as called for in the university's Disciplinary Procedures. The Registrar called on Associate Dean of Science Danny Blair to prepare this report, and it makes me look very bad indeed. I have posted a copy so you can see what he said about me.

It's quite appalling really...remember, this is supposed to be an "impartial" report. He conducted his "investigation", as he calls it, be reading through the charges against me. He didn't find it necessary to ask me for my side of the story. From his investigation he concluded that there was ample evidence in the five letters of complaint to find me guilty of Non-Academic misconduct. He found the evidence so compelling that he was moved to strongly urge the University to take whatever measures necessary to make sure that I would never be allowed to teach children. And all this without ever hearing my side of the story.

It seem Professor O'Farrell thought Blair's comments would be helpful in convincing the Comittee to ratify my expulsion, but she failed to notice that she had given me an opening. She had circulated a letter quoting Blair as saying there was "an abundance of evidence within the written complaints" showing that my behavior constituted non-Academic misconduct. But she had not circulated those letters themselves. I wrote the Board of Regents pointing out this discrepancy, and I observed that if the Chair of the Commitee was allowed to introduce Blair's letter into evidence, then it would be manifestly unreasonable to not also include as evidence those very letters which Blair had already identified as containing the gist of the case against me.

The letters of complaint were disclosed to me the next day.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Breach of Trust

Yesterday I told you about Professor Cantor's letter to the dean. I thought is was pretty unethical of her to use this information, which was given to her in confidence, in order to discredit me. But it's not just that she discloses personal information. In fact, I have nothing to hide. I have posted the offending essay in its entirety here, and I am quite proud of it.

Professor Cantor begins her letter with the declaration that she feels my behavior has had an adverse effect on my classmates. She ends her letter with a repetition of this declaration. But in between only 25% of her letter deals with my "behavior" in class, supposedly the subject of her concern. The other 75% deals with my essay and the subsequent discussion she had with me about it. Since the discussion was not held in the presence of any of my classmates, it could hardly be considered to have been evidence of "behavior" on my part detrimental to my fellow students. It is hard to escape the conclusion that Professor Cantor's letter was an attempt to show underlying causes for my supposed other words, that my essay and the ensuing discussion revealed signs of a disturbed psyche.

Remember, the essay was confidential; and one would think, so was the follow-up discussion. So her use of this information to undermine my status in the program seems to me to show very questionable ethics. But one could almost excuse this lapse if one felt it were motivated by a true concern for the welfare of potential students of mine, and if the analysis were conducted objectively. Let's have another look then, and see if she really is being fair and objective towards me. We can begin with her first allegation, where she says that my essay did not meet any of the criteria "clearly explained in the course syllabus".

Let's look at the syllabus then, and see which criteria I failed to satisfy in my essay. Before we go any farther, let's consider the title of the assignment:

"Personal Identity and Reflection Paper"

If someone asks you to write an essay where you reflect on your personal identity, it's got to be quite a stretch for that person to later object that you haven't fulfilled the criteria of the assignment. I don't think anyone can read my essay and doubt the fact that I have reflected deeply on my personal identiy. But furthermore, the very nature of the subject demands that the writer be given a wide latitude in terms of what he chooses to reveal or delve into. Professor Cantor makes no allowance for this in her criticism. But let's go on to the details of the assignment specification. Here is the first requirement:

"Length: Using APA style, 5-7 pages (typed, double-spaced, 12-point font.) Family photographs, drawings, audio or video responses can accompany the paper."

I believe my essay was of the required length, in fact seven full pages not including the title page, and I copied to the best of my ability the APA format from the examples I downloaded. It's true that I didn't include family pictures, but this was optional.

The syllabus continues as follows:

"The purpose of this assignment is for students to explore their own family story and to recognize that diverse family stories come together in schools. A strong paper will effectively weave together an analysis of your own experiences, beliefs, traditions and practises. Use the questions below as a guide to your thoughts in structuring this paper."

Let's look at the syllabus then, and see which criteria I failed to satisfy in my essay. But right away the Professor is on shaky grounds. There are in fact no "requirements"...only "guidelines". How closely was I expected to hew to these "guidelines", and in fact how far did I stray from them? Let's read the guidelines. I'm going to start with these four:

1. When you think of your family, who is included?
2. When you think about your heritage, what places of origin do you identify for your family?
3. What languages are/were spoken in your home?
4. What holidays, traditions, celebrations and/or rituals did your family observe that reflect your culture, religion, or heritage, and how do these affect your current perceptions?

The first thing that should be obvious to anyone is that a professor has no business expecting you to answer personal questions of this kind; and to the extent that I choose to answer or not answer, it is nobody's business. In fact, if you read my essay I concluded it with a very deeply felt analysis of how my Jewish background and my father's personality affected my outlook on educational philosophy and life in general. I don't know what Professor Cantor's problem is with what I wrote, except that she is also Jewish, and her idea of Jewishness is apparently very different from mine. In fact, her very "guidelines" show how she identifies Jewishly:  she asks about the "holidays, traditions, celebrations and rituals that your family observes". These are precisely the central focus of the woman's role in Jewish life: preparing the Passover meals, lighting the Sabbath candles. If she expected me to talk about those aspects of Judaism as defining my cultural identity, I'm sorry I disappointed her. In my essay, I talk very clearly about how my Jewishness affects my worldview, and it has nothing to do with matzoh-ball soup or corned beef sandwiches.

There are two more criteria (oops...I mean "guidelines") that I supposedly failed to meet in my essay. Remember, she said I met "none" on the criteria. So here are the last two items I supposedly failed to cover:

5. Have you been affected by discrimination or prejudice?
6. How do you believe your personal experiences will impact your view about education, school, and your future working in a school setting?

I am appalled that Professor Cantor goes on to tell the Dean that instead of writing about what I was supposed to write about, I spent much of my essay complaining about how I was mistreated by one of my professors. It makes me sound like nothing but a complainer. And yet she fails to mention the pertinent fact that in Item 5 I am asked to write about a situation where I had experienced discrimination or prejudice. Well, this was my experience.  I was discriminated against because of my educational philosophy. Perhaps Professor Cantor was disappointed that I did not report having been discriminated against because I am Jewish.

Finally, let's look at Item six: How do I believe my personal experiences will impact my views on education and my future working in a school setting? In my essay, I describe in detail my educational philosophy. Then I say, "Today in class a small incident took place which clearly illustrates where my views conflict with the conventional wisdom." Then I tell my story about the disagreement with Professor Metz. In what possible way have I failed to reflect on items 5 and 6 in Professor Cantor's list of guidelines?

It seems pretty clear to me that Professor Cantor was not so much disturbed by my failure to address the issues she listed in her assignment, but rather she was offended that my opinions on those issues were different from hers.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Laurelyn Cantor: What I think of Marty Green

Yesterday I told you I felt pretty betrayed when I found out what the oh-so-nice Professor Cantor was saying about me behind my back. Here it is in its entirety. The essay she trashes was a Personal Reflection assigment which I was actually really proud of. I'll show you what I wrote when we return, but today I yield the floor to Professor Cantor.

"To whom it may concern:

"I feel that Marty Green's behavior has had an adverse effect on the well-being of his fellow students in my class, EDUA 2530 152 Introduction to Special Education in the Fall 2011 term at the University of Winnipeg.

"During the first week of classes, I explained the expectations for all the assignments for the course. Prior to the first assignment being handed in, due on Sept 22, 2011, I told the students not to hesitate to ask if anyone had questions or needed clarification about the assignment. Marty did not attempt to contact me. Marty's assignment did not meet any of the criteria clearly explained in the course syllabus. The feedback I gave Marty said that I could not mark his paper, and to meet with me to discuss it. He told me that he did not feel the assignment was relevant. Included in his paper was a detailed account of one of his classes, and the way he was mistreated by the professor. 

"Marty also told me at the time that he felt many of the professors, as well as the students, disregarded and disrespected him. 

"At the conclusion of one of the final presentations, Marty made an inappropriate request of an ASL interpreter. The student who had invited the interpreter was embarrassed and offended, and wrote an email, which I have enclosed, with redaction. 

"As indicated, I feel that Marty Green's behavior in class has had a detrimental effect on his fellow classmates.


"Laurelyn Cantor, PhD."

Monday, October 1, 2012

How Crazy Am I?

Today the Free Press published a news story about my lawsuit against the University of Winnipeg. You can read it here online. The story is all right, but the talkbacks are kind of interesting. Apparently it's pretty clear to a lot of people that there's something wrong with me in the head. And therefore it's a good thing that the U of W kicked me out of the teaching program, because we can't have crazy people teaching our children.

Maybe it's true. Of course, the University was pretty careful not to say anything like this out loud during the proceedings against me, because that might be "discrimination". But I when I see the reaction of "normal" people to my story, I have to wonder if the University wasn't motivated by the similar feelings of fear and revulsion towards people who are different from the "normal" ones. Yes, I have to admit I'm different...the whole world can't be wrong. But just what is it about me that makes me unfit to be put in charge of children?

You see, the University had a problem. From their point of view, they obviously had to get rid of me, because I was potentially dangerous, on account of my psychological disability. But they couldn't just say so...they had to come up with actual reasons.

When I finally got to see the "reasons" they had for kicking me out, I was amazed at how flimsy they were. (And by the way, it wasn't until months after I was kicked out that I managed to pry the reasons out of them, with a little help from the Freedom of Information Act.) I've already posted the very limited amount of information they were willing to disclose while the proceedings against me were still under way. You can review it here. Admittedly it makes me look pretty bad, especially the part about how I made a girl cry. But these were not the actual written complaints against me...they were just a summary. I wanted to know which girl I made cry, and just how I did it? But they wouldn't tell me. Imagine how surprised I was months later when I finally got to see the complaints, and all that was written up was that I "reduced another student to tears". I just thought they had to have more than that to hang me with.

But when I re-read the complaints in the light of what I learned today, about how the rest of the world sees me...I can see the true undercurrent which flows through all of them: it is the unspoken implication that this man is crazy! That was the true gist of the complaints, and that was why they kicked me out. I can see it everywhere, but nowhere is it more clear to me than in the written complaint lodged by Professor Lauralyn Cantor.

Professor Cantor is, I believe, a professional psychologist; if she isn't, I think it is fair to say that she is recognized as someone with expertise in psychology. She taught us a class on how to teach people with disabilities, and of course mental and psychological disabilities were a main focus of her course. I knew early on that three professors had written complaints against me, and I was pretty sure I knew who they were. When the written complaints were finally disclosed months later, I was not surprised to see complaints by Professors Bell and Metz; but I was quite flabbergasted to see that the third complaint was not from my old nemesis Professor Bush, but rather from Mrs. Nicey-nice Caring and Sharing Professor Cantor, loved by one and all for her niceness. She wrote a devastating critique of my character, based largely on an essay I had submitted in the third week of classes.

The essay in question was assigned as a Personal Self-Reflection. She wanted us to look within ourselves and write about some of the things that made us who we were. Of course, whatever we wrote would be strictly confidential: we could count on that. I certainly took her at her word.

Imagine how surprised I was to find my personal and confidential essay dissected for the Dean of Education; and I can tell you, I came off looking pretty disturbed. When we return, I'll tell you what I wrote, and how Professor Cantor played it back to the people who would shortly thereafter kick me out of school.