Saturday, August 24, 2013

About Me and Moonface

Miss Anonymous has gotten me reminiscing about my days as an Education student, and it's kind of fun. She brought up a small incident in class where we made "concept charts", and I went off on my own instead of sticking with the group. It's funny that people talked about that afterwards. It was a very small incident, not something involving any conflict, but its something Miss Anonymous remembers coming up in discussions after my classmates found out I "wouldn't be returning".

Although we tell the story from very different perspectives, her version backs up mine its most important aspects. In my version, I say that the thing I found most disturbing was the way the whole excercise, whether by overt design or merely by subliminal groupthink, was directed towards fostering uniformity of thought. Miss Anonymous confirms this in several subtle ways. She recalls that many of the maps produced by the various groups were "...similar."  (emphasis on the three dots.) And she confirms by omission that Professor Bush pointedly removed my map from the discussion. And she validates my observation about the huge social forces tending to enforce uniformity of thought within the program when she expressing genuine shock that in second year, some students actually managed to "find their own direction" without being penalized for it!

And yet she still clings to the conclusion that I simply misunderstood the good intentions of my classmates towards me, thereby (by implication) ultimately being responsible for my own alienation from the group. She gives no overt examples of hostility on my part towards my classmates; quite the contrary. But her overriding perspective is that my removal from the program was ultimately justified because  of my "apparent discomfort in being subordinate to other teachers or to the administration". (She even quotes herself twice on this.) In other words, the social tendencies I displayed in this little in-class excercise, where I was uncomfortable being pressured (by Moonface) to go along with the ideas being pushed by my "superiors" (Professor Bush!)...those are the things that ultimately made me unsuitable for the teaching profession. She further professes bafflement as to why I identified this little incident as a "microcosm" of the things wrong with the Education program.

By the way, I don't really have anything against Moonface. I said the other day that he didn't like me very much...I think this is fair comment. It wasn't so much a matter of dislike as a total mismatch of worldviews. It's like I said...after I presented my ideas on what I though about the concept map, he just looked at me with slack-jawed bafflement, and then proceeded to do what he was going to do as though I didn't even register on him. What I didn't know then, and only learned yesterday from Miss Anonymous, was that Moonface privately thought the whole assignment was a pointless waste of time. But that wasn't going to stop him from taking charge of the group and making sure the prof got exactly what he wanted!

Anyhow, this wasn't the only occasion where Moonface took it upon himself to side with Professor Bush against me. I wonder if Miss Anonymous remember the day we spent a whole class analyzing a Calvin and Hobbes strip. This was another one where people probably thought it was a waste of time, although no one would stand up and say so. In fact, I thought it was a very good educational exercise (as was the concept chart)...except like the concept chart, it too was turned into something pointless by the pedagogical incompetence of Professor Bush.

The theme of the exercise was "put-downs". The idea was that this particular strip was supposed to teach us something about the deleterious effect of put-downs on personal interactions. It starts with Calvin all upset because the teacher has assigned him to work on a group project with Suzy, his goody-goody arch-nemesis. Suzy retorts something to the effect of "how do you think I feel, having to work with a useless good-for-nothing like you?" And then they try to work together, but everything deteriorates into mutual recriminations as Calvin does everything he can to make a mockery of the project.

Professor Bush asked us to start off by counting how may "put-downs" we could identify in the whole comic strip. We broke up into groups, and everyone started...counting. That's all we did! I tried to get a discussion going about what was the point of the strip, but as usual, I got nothing but blank stares.

Then Professor Bush went around from group to group, asking how many putdowns we had found. This group found 17, that group found 23, and so forth. Moonface proudly reported that his group had found fifty-seven! I couldn't help thinking he would have been great on one of Stalin's five-year plans. A real hero of the proletariat. But now I'm being petty...back to the story.

It was near the end of the class, and the prof finally got around to asking what we thought of the story: in particular, who was responsible...Calvin of Suzy...for the collapse of the joint enterprise, the history project. Of course, the obvious answer was Calvin; but with a little guidance from Professor Bush, the class came to the conclusion that both Calvin and Suzy were responsible...Calvin for his obvious craziness, but also Suzy for her unwillingness to harness Calvin's creative energy in positive ways. A happy conclusion.

I had kept my mouth shut until the very end of class because I wanted to see if anyone else had seen what I saw, but in the end no one had. So I spoke up. First I asked how many people thought Calvin was to blame. A few hand went up. Then I asked how many blamed both of them. The great majority of the class. And then I asked...who thinks Suzy was to blame? No one. And then I pointed out: who made the first put-down? It was Suzy!

I was immediately drowned out by voices telling me I was obviously wrong, that it was Calvin who came in all upset at being assigned to work with Suzy. Yes, I managed to make myself heard, Calvin didn't want to work with Suzy. But his rant to that effect contained no specific put-down...just a sense of exasperation that the two of them were incompatible. (Calvin's words were of course more colorful than that, but a careful reading showed that I was right. It was Suzy who started with the put-downs, after which Calvin enthusiastically joined in.)

"It doesn't matter! It's exactly the same as a put-down because he was upset at working with her!" Moonface had suddenly taken control of the floor and declared my position to be invalid. Professor Bush abruptly declared the debate to be over and class broke up.

In retrospect, I have to believe that Professor Bush had completely botched the lesson, just as he botched the concept map lesson by turning it into an exercise in groupthink. I found out later that using Calvin and Hobbes wasn't his idea...that cartoonist Bill Watterson had actually published a book of cartoons to be used for pedagogical exercises, and this was one of them. Surely then, the them of "put-downs" was not something that Professor Bush came up with on his own, but something that he had gotten from the book. That being the case, my interpretation was surely the right one...that despite Calvin's obvious misbehavior in sabotaging the project, we really should have looked at who made the first put-down...namely, Suzy. And yet this seems to have gone right over everyone's head.

It's too bad my classmates, including Anonymous, didn't pick up on this not-so-subtle point. Because on numerous occasions, they accused me of disrespectful behavior towards Professor Bush (and other profs) when I was simply responding (and quite reasonably, I should stipulate) to a completely unjustified put-downs on their part. What else was Miss Anonymous was talking about when she criticized me for being unwilling to show deference to my superiors, and cited that characteristic as justification for me being kicked out of school.

I wonder if she remembers this story differently than I do. In other words, was there one single incident or unpleasant confrontation where she can honestly say that I was the one who "started it"?


  1. Spoke to "Moonface" about this anecdote. To be honest, aside from remembering the exercise, itself, neither of us remember him posturing his responses against you. While he does remember his group finding a large number of "put-downs" in the comic, he says that he, himself, only acted as the "recorder" in the group, and that much of the semantic sleuthing was done by the rest of the group members.

    Moreover, though neither of us remember him vehemently dismissing a point at the end of class (had you taken the time to actually get to know Moonface, you'd realize that he's typically one of the most quiet ones in the class. "Participation" was often one of the weighted components of a course grade he was worried about in light of that), I fail to understand your gripe.

    Let's assume that you are remembering the entire turn of events correctly, and that Moonface, indeed, stated a point toward the end of class for the sole purpose of countering your opinion (my apologies to Moonface if you're reading this - we're speaking hypothetically). In your eyes, you are perfectly justified in sharing your opinion, whether or not it happens to coincide with that of other group members or of the professor. What makes anyone else less justified in offering a contrary opinion? That the contrary opinion is offered by the professor (if you are correct in recalling that) does not necessarily make it correct, and the onus still remains with the individual students to decide which view, in their opinion, is correct.

    As I said, this all assumes that you have correctly "figured out" Moonface and his intentions which, I feel, you definitely have not. Though we all have our druthers and are prone to interact differently with different people and in different situations, I cannot reconcile the picture you're painting of this person with the person who spent much of the remainder of the program questioning (and, perhaps amongst other people, criticizing) what was being pitched at us by various instructors and professors. I think the fact that he went along with the assignments and discussions as "business as usual", at least if he's anything like the rest of the class, was a means to an end.

    1. From what I saw and recall, he still did what was asked of him in the various papers and projects, but I'm not sure that equates to him being the obsequious tool you seem to be making him out to be. Had you remained in the program, I think you would have learned that the stance of the cohort often ended up being something to the tune of "we may not agree with this; we may not see the point of this; let's get this over and done with so that we can focus on teaching". What you almost *never* heard was "these instructors have all the answers; I think if we follow their lead, we'll all be good!" At the end of the day, the goal for much of the class was to get the degree, certify, and be able to teach. Going along with the assignments and discussions doesn't necessarily indicate how one will acquit themselves as a teacher. Few teachers I have met actively pursue teaching practices that fit the mold of theory and construct, in fact. And yet, the professors still present their views all the same. Have you considered that, perhaps, at least some of these students are waiting for their own practice before they try going off the beaten path? If you had remained in the cohort longer, I think the answer would have been a lot more clear to you.

      Hasn't this been the problem from the very beginning, Marty? You seem to make up your mind about a person, whether or not you truly understand them, and fixate upon that opinion of them. You then form an opinion, based on that opinion, of how that person views you, and you look for confirmation in minute actions that don't correlate to the person's actual opinion of you. "Moonface" first responded to your take on him by saying "he couldn't be farther from the truth". But, I suppose, you'll simply refute that by saying "of course he'd say that - anything to make himself look better". Additionally, I also suppose you've never, in this blog, done yourself the same service.

      I digress.

      What it boils down to, essentially, is this: you cannot make any changes as a teacher if you are never certified to teach. Looking at the issue realistically, who is more likely to end up being certified by the province - one who "jumps through the hoops", as it were, or one who refuses to go through the process? As a corollary to that, is it not possible, at all, for people to go through the process, obtain the product, and then reveal, for lack of a better term, their "true colours"?

      Or are you going to persist in your belief that a person's qualities are immutable, and that the way they react in classroom discussions is the ideal indicator of their teaching philosophy. If that is the case, then I suppose you've made up your mind about "Moonface" (and, to an extent, the rest of us), and nothing will change that.

      I encourage you to consider, though, that you had very little contact with the cohort following the acquisition of appreciable practicum experience.

  2. Since you just spoke with Moonface the other day, I'm wondering if he agrees with you that I deserved to get kicked out of the Education program?

    1. I don't think there is any way for him to know what happened at Gordon Bell, either.

      However, on the matter of you being kicked out, "Moonface" states that he does not believe you should have been removed from the program so hastily, without fair attention to all of the steps outlined in the Practicum Handbook. More directly quoted: "I didn't think, in fairness, they could (or should?) dispense with that kind of ruling so quickly... not with the steps in place in the handbook."

      I suppose that makes one of us...

  3. No, we're not talking about the way they kicked me out of the practicum. I'm talking about the hundred and one character flaws you've identified from seeing me in class, and which you have stated again and again make me unsuitable to be a teacher. I'm talking about the numerous incidents which you witnessed yourself and for which I was written up, which you have read about in this blog, which the University used to justify removing me under its non-academic misconduct policy.

    You must have been there when I was rude and disrespectful to the professors; when I was disruptive; when I insulted and riduculed the ESL interpreter; and when I made a girl cry...these are the things I was accused of doing in the classes we shared together. Why then do you justify my expulsion based on things reported about me in Gordon Bell, when you admit you have no way of knowing if they are true or not?

    What did you ACTUALLY SEE ME DO that justified getting me kicked out of the program?

  4. For me, personally? Seeing the way you react to conflict - like this - states more than enough about your suitability. In teaching, you're going to run into differences of opinion and ideology all the time; not just between students, between yourself and your students, or between your students and other teachers, but between yourself and other teachers, and between the teachers and the administration. If you can't be willing to see things from another perspective (though not necessarily adopting that perspective as your own), you'd find it untenable, at least based on how you've carried yourself in class and on this blog. The incidents you list, in and of themselves, perhaps raise an eyebrow, but for me, it's in how you've responded to the allegations - by going up in arms. But I've said my piece in that regard in the past, haven't I?

    As for "Moonface" (at some point, we really need to agree to stop calling him that...), according to the response he just sent me in regards to prompting him for more based on your response, he considers the response to your questions to the ESL interpreter, and to your questions/comments in class (the classes he shared, at least), to be exaggerated. His contention is that there had to have been a less drastic way to address any concerns that instructors or other students would have had, as, and I quote, "[I] didn't have those concerns with him, myself. So I can't quite understand exactly where these people are coming from."

    In light of that, "Moonface" states "No, I don't think his behavior, from what I saw, justified being withdrawn from the program, either. I don't see an issue with being vocal about your opinion, as long as it isn't malicious... and I never really saw his as that."

    Though I should point out that he never spoke to the interpreter and was not aware of a girl being made to cry in class. Still, he's sticking by his opinion. I suppose I cannot fault him on that.