Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Stanford University turns out to be as clique-ish as any teachers lounge

The most amazing part of this story is that Stanford college graduate students actually told their professor that they didn't want to sit next to a certain person!

This story sounds like it might have taken place in a high school cafeteria or teachers lounge: places where conformity to group-think is frequently required. I'm sorry to disappoint anyone who thought universities were places where everyone was genuinely interested in divergent points of view. It turns out that even though academics might process information a bit faster than the average Joe, when it comes to personal politics, they're sometimes as bad as--or worse than-- the mean girls in high school.

I think it's quite likely that Michele Kerr might be wrong in many of her beliefs, but why do other students want to stop the discussion? They should articulate why she's wrong. Also, they could learn something if they seriously considered what she's saying. There are probably gems of truth in her diatribes. Don't throw the baby--free expression and open mindedness--out with the rant water. Kathy Marshall is someone who is expressing opposition to Michele's beliefs. Stanford students should step up to the plate and defend their beliefs, not relying on the power of their clique to do it for them.


They Messed With the Wrong Blogger

By Jay Matthews
Washington Post
July 24, 2009

...[Stanford student Michele Kerr sent an email] to her classmates after the program’s director, Rachel Lotan, said some of her fellow teacher trainees found her “domineering and intimidating” and didn’t want to sit next to her in class.

“For those of you who wish to continue requesting that you not sit with me in practicum, make sure you mention the reason so that Rachel can build her case for the next time we do our little dance. ‘Rachel, I do not want to sit next to Michele in practicum. It has nothing to do with her views; she’s just a domineering, overbearing bitch.’ DOB. We could print up cards or something. Don’t Sit Me Next to the DOB!” she wrote. “I’ll continue being me, and those of you who feel uncomfortable can maybe learn how to speak up. Or not. Your call.”

Lotan and Eamonn K. Callan, the education school’s dean for student affairs... said the email “could have the effect of silencing those who are wary of confronting” Kerr and that she “had not considered that her actions could have a chilling effect on other students, according to an email they sent to Kerr...

She was almost 46, much older than most other STEP program admittees. Single, with a son in college, she had a long career as a business process management consultant, but began to tutor high school students struggling with difficult courses and standardized tests. She found she was good at it. Why not teach full time?

She was pleased that a program as prestigious as Stanford’s had room for her...At the open house, a STEP instructor asked if she planned to accept the offer of admission. Anyone else would have said yes. But Kerr, who calls herself “fatally truthful,” said the tuition would be difficult to afford and admitted she was philosophically out of sync with the program...According to Kerr, Lotan looked for legal grounds to keep Kerr out, something Kerr said she discovered when another official mistakenly sent her an email that was meant just for Lotan...

The senior university counsel answered, saying Kerr would start the program in June...


But in September, Kerr’s blog, “Surviving Stanford,” which she had routinely referred to in her STEP classes, became an issue...

STEP’s displeasure was so great that Kerr finally took down the blog temporarily, renamed it, eliminated all references to Stanford, and gave it password protection so that only she and a few friends could read it.

That wasn’t enough for the STEP folk. Two months later, Lotan wrote that she was concerned that Kerr was “unsuited for the practice of teaching,” beginning a process that could have ended in Kerr being denied a teaching credential. Lotan complained that Kerr was late to some Stanford classes, and in turning in assignments.

Kerr learned to her dismay that a student could be denied a credential for any reason--even those that have nothing to do with teaching. Kerr’s supervisor told her in late November, without warning, that he was unhappy with her work and gave her low ratings in professionalism, she said. According to Kerr, he said she had lied to him, and made it clear her chances of getting through the program successfully were in jeopardy.

Kerr fought back, demanding proof of the charges. Kerr said the supervisor withdrew the accusation of lying. Lotan admitted that she had no idea if other STEP students were similarly tardy or why some didn’t want to sit next to Kerr...


Anonymous said...

Actually this piece is by Jay Mathews and was posted by the other person.

Maura Larkins said...

Thanks so much for clearing that up. I have corrected my mistake.

Maura Larkins said...

I was thinking that perhaps people didn't want to sit next to Michele because they were afraid she'd write about them. She didn't identify students, but others in the class would remember who it was who said a certain thing. My response is the same as Michele's: You are a graduate student a one of the best universities in the world (albeit a teacher education program). Why don't you respond to Michele's comments? Aren't you paying big bucks to expand your mind? I think you should add to the discussion, not try to stop it.