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.


  1. Please forgive me for commenting on a post from almost a year ago.
    Marty, I don't know whether you are right in this struggle. I don't know whether you'll prevail in any of your court actions. I don't know whether you would have made a great teacher or not (or even whether you would have made it through the rest of the program).
    But your writing style is infectiously pleasing to me, the piece you submitted for this assignment especially so. That essay was pure gold, Marty. But you really ought to have known that by trashing the very foundation of the present educational system and then drawing a line between the present Dean and your own father, and so clearly elevating one and vilifying the other, you were sealing your fate as surely as if you had spit in the prof's face.
    That took chutzpah, man.

  2. Spit in his face? I don't think I was THAT hard on old Lloyd. But it's true that Axworthy and my father were politicians cut from a very different cloth. I don't think I was all that out of line in saying so in an essay where we were asked to explain how our family background influenced our philosophy of eductation.

    But what really surprised me is the number of people who think it's obvious I would get in trouble for criticizing my prof's belief system. My son used to complain sometimes that the university prof expected you to tell them what they wanted to hear, and I used to tell him he was being ridiculous. "Argue what you believe in", I told him, "they're not going to give you bad marks for sticking up for your own beliefs". I guess I was wrong.

    But it'll be interesting to see how it plays out in court.

  3. I can only agree with Anonymous's comment -- especially the praise for your essay (which articulates my thoughts on the same subject, having recently spent a very short time in the teaching game). However, I can also see why Cantor had a go at you about not writing the essay she wanted you to write -- 99% of students would just knuckle down and trot out a slightly more sophisticated version of the "My Family" essay that sixth-graders have to write at the start of the year, and her job would have been nice and easy. And then along comes Marty Green, doesn't stick to the script, writes stuff that's closely written and a bit hard to follow, and tells her that merely teaching to a syllabus is bullshit. And then pokes the top man of the university in the eye. Hmmm, yes, maybe you *were* asking for a bit of a kicking. I'm dying to find out what happens next ...

  4. Nice to have you onside, McFlick, but patience! the legal system takes years to work through. Don't "die" in the meantime...I'm trying not to. I have a pretty good shot at getting my case into court within a year or two, but even if I win, the appeals can drag on forever. And win or lose, at least I'm making life miserable for them in the meantime.