Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Clash of Perspectives

Last week I told you about how I was doing a problem in roof rafters using pictures to calculate the length via similar triangles. It seems this is not the approved method. Let us continue the story where we left off...

A student once told me there is a sheet with 137 mathematical formulas on it, and those are all the formulas you need to pass your carpentry exam. One of those  137 formulas corresponds to the very rafter problem which I was doing with pictures. But of course there are a dozen or so rafter types in carpentry, which means  another dozen or so formulas corresponding to each of the  possible rafter questions the students might see on an exam. For me, the idea that you would try to calculate rafter lengths by memorizing dozens of different formulas seems completely impractical and unnecessary because I have exactly one method that works for every single problem: I just draw the picture and work it out with similar triangles. But for those students who have been indoctrinated in the method of formulas, it seems both pointless and frustrating when I insist on doing my calculations with the help of pictures.  (Murray happens to be one of those indoctrinees. One day I was showing how to do board-feet calculations, naturally with the help of pictures, when Murray walked right into my class without saying a word, wrote the formula on the board behind me, and walked out again.)

It was this clash of perspectives that precipitated the crisis which ultimately cost me my job. I was teaching hip rafters, which go at an angle in three dimensions. I drew my picture. The obvious way to draw the picture, projecting the rafter into the plan view, requires an  intermediate calculation, and this is how I did it on the board. One of the “formula” students said I was doing it wrong, so I asked him to go the board and show us how to do it. He got up and wrote a single formula, getting the same answer as me. No pictures and no middle step. I looked at it and saw that it was right but in that moment I somehow wasn’t able to put it in the form of a simple picture. So I told him he was free to use the formula if he wanted, but I preferred to keep using the method which I understood, even with the extra step. With almost no warning, the student abruptly announced, “This is a fucking waste of time. You don’t know what you’re doing.” As he got up to leave, I told him he was suspended for the duration of the class. Which was a violation of Murray’s explicit orders to me. Which Murray didn’t have the authority to issue in the first place since he wasn’t my boss. Which is what I subsequenly said in my letter to my REAL boss. Which led Murray to accuse me of not following the curriculum. Which is where this whole story began.

As I re-read the last few lines, I realize that although the sequence of events makes sense, it’s not exactly the way it happened. The truth is a little more bizarre. At the end of my class that day, I went straight to Murray to tell him what had happened. I found him livid with rage. Based only on the student’s complaining to him of being kicked out of class, he had already phoned our boss, told him that I wasn’t following the curriculum and demanded that I be fired. His words to me were “You’ll never set foot in my classoorm again!” And all this without even waiting to hear my side of the story! (His exact words were “I don’t NEED to hear your side of the story.” It’s interesting that I would hear those same words several more times in various circumstances during my year in Thompson. Nice people you have up there.) In any case, when I described this sequence of events in my letter to Selwin, it frankly made Murray look like the jackass he truly is. Murray never forgave me for that.

And that was how Level Two ended. According to the Ms. Henning’s letter, “Mr. Green was provided ample opportunity to correct these issues in Level 3, but this did not happen.” And yet the only specific example of inappropriate teaching subsequent to the Christams break which they are able to cite in their letter of dismissal is...troubleshooting the water heater, which took place not in Carpentry but in Facilites Tech 2! From Level Three Carpentry the college does not present a single instance to support its case.

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