4/9/2008: Written account of first Lotan meeting

Note: This account is from posts I made on an online forum less than an hour after the first meeting with Rachel Lotan.

Okay, I just came back from a Stanford meeting, which was supposed to be about my question on student teaching.

It wasn't. It was about "certain comments" I'd made during Admit Day.

Boy, that was a bad meeting.

This is now the second time that a Stanford rep has ostensibly contacted me to discuss a question of mine when it was actually to pressure me about something they heard secondhand that I may have said.

"I want you to understand that we have a certain approach to teaching math."

"Yes, I know."

"And you don't like it."

"I don't think it matters much what my opinion is. All ed schools use the progressive approach, so any differences I have would be irrelevant."

"Ah. But at Admit Day, I'm told you used the word 'ideological'."

"Well, yes. I believe that the 'progressive vs. traditional' debate is ideological."

"No, it isn't. We teach our method because of empirical evidence. It is not an ideology."

"Okay. But I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with describing the difference as ideological."

"You also used the words 'ed school'."

"Um. Yes. Is that an insult? Education school? Ed school? That's wrong?"

"No, of course not."

It went on for forty five minutes. I'm still pretty upset. I did everything I could to reassure them that I wanted to be a teacher, that Stanford was a good school, and that any disagreements I had were ones that I had long since resolved to put aside, and that I was ready and eager to learn. No good. She kept referring to the same points.

At one point, I observed that this was precisely the sort of conversation that politicized the debate. Would any of them, I asked, be comfortable if this little interview hit the news?

She said "Look, I just think that perhaps you should ask others here. We have lots of other people who are second careers, and you can talk to them."

"But I don't have any questions. I've made it clear--both today and in the conversation that was reported back to you--that I understand what I'm getting into. You yourself have referred to the heavily politicized atmosphere. So clearly, I applied here--and am thinking of attending--with that in mind. It's not me who has the problem or the additional questions. It's you. You don't want me to come here. You can't retract the letter, but you don't want me to come here. And so this meeting."

"I haven't ever said I didn't want you to come here! I wish we had a recording of this meeting, as I feel we'll both be regretting later. So listen. Are you listening."

"Yes."

And then she says the same thing all over again. Constantly, she refers to the final project, emphasizing it. The only thing I could conclude is that she was threatening to fail me--which is odd, as she was bragging in the Admit Day that no one failed.

When she finished, I asked "Isn't that what everyone has to do? Go through the program, student teach, and do the final project?"

"Yes."

"Then why have you brought me in to tell me this? What do my beliefs have to do with this?"

"Nothing."

"Then why the meeting? And remember, this entire meeting was supposed to provide me with answers about your student teacher program. You didn't send me an email saying 'Hey, I heard about something you said to someone else, and I need to talk to you about it.'"

"Well, I have been meaning to talk to you about it."

"Admit Day was a month ago, and you haven't contacted me."

"I would have."

"We are supposed to accept by next week. When were you planning on this? The whole thing feels as a 'by the way' based solely on the fact that I gave you a pretext by asking about the student teaching. Why did you wait until I asked a question, then say it'd be good to talk about the question, then invite two people into the room to grill me on something that I had no questions about?"

"Well, I don't know."

"You don't know? Please."

"No, I don't know."

"Well, it was profoundly dishonest. And it's the second time someone has done this bait and switch."

Like I said. Not a good time.

I've decided to write a letter to the ombudsman and ask that he send it confidentially to the head of the program--tellingly, I can't figure out who that is.

Note: This bit was written a day later, after the letter to the ombudsman:

I happened to have [David Labaree's The Trouble With Ed Schools] in my teaching bag and it came in handy during the meeting. After the head of the program pounced on my use of the term "ed schools" for the third time, I reached into my bag and pulled out the book.

"What's your point? Yes, he criticizes ed schools, but as you know, David praises Stanford--he did so at Admit Day."

"I'm just pointing out the title."

"Yes, what of it?"

"It's just that...you seem to have a problem with my use of the term 'ed school'. I'm really not sure why, so I thought I'd pull this out and ask you if he meant it in a pejorative sense."

I didn't get an answer on that, that I recall.

In fact, I have a terrible time remembering the conversation linearly, and I'm pretty sure it's because the whole thing was circular. My memory for conversations is usually excellent, and even as I walked out of the meeting, I realized I couldn't recall explicit ordering. When I wrote the letter to the ombudsman, I talked only of what she reiterated over and over. First, that I would have to complete a Final Project. Second, that I would be closely scrutinized. Third, that I should talk to other STEP students. (I didn't mention her ongoing problem with my use of 'ed school' because I couldn't fit it in properly)

Why would she bring these things up? What was the point, given that she had called this meeting?

It was all quite humiliating, because it was pretty clear that she was saying "you won't fit in".

In fact, if she had just been honest, the conversation would have been much shorter.

Her: "Cal, I've just discovered you're an instructivist and I'm sorry. Experience has taught us that you people are a monumental pain in the ass and I don't want you anywhere near the program. I don't know how we didn't notice this in your application, but we just can't cope with it. You people are always fighting and bitching about it, and you're just wrong, and we don't have time to deal with you."

Me: "Wow, you couldn't tell from my application? That's pretty sad. But in any event look, I'm not a radical trying to get a lawsuit settlement from a prestigious ed school. I just want to be a teacher and I know that I have to pretend to drink the Koolaid for a year. I can't swear I won't argue, but I know the basic rules, so can't you just give it a rest instead of proving how ideologically rigid you are?"