A retraction and an apology

I recently posted personal reflections on my time teaching a module at Ruskin College, Oxford. I have decided to remove that post for various reasons. Here, I reflect on the ethical errors of judgment – some of them grievous – that I made that have led me to decide to remove the post and I offer an apology to those I have upset.

Before I published the piece on Ruskin, I sent it to three people to proofread. All three fed back with positive, encouraging comments and gave me kind words about the value of the piece. Consequently, I published. In no way do I blame my kind proofreaders for my own errors of judgment.

The first and most grievous error I cannot mention.

My second error was to write from a personal, more experiential and anecdotal, even emotional, perspective. I tried very hard in the piece to avoid recent and current controversies and to avoid commenting on issues I was not qualified to comment on. However, in certain places, the nature of my observations and feelings – though legitimate – were not appropriate to publish without following them up with proper research.

My third error was to believe naively that my criticism, intended to be leveled at an organisation, would not be taken personally by its long-standing, dedicated, and passionate employees. There is a sense that folk at Ruskin feel besieged right now and, in this context, my belief was even more naive.

The only mitigating thing I will say – not in my defence, but in the name of fair reporting – is that quite a few people ‘liked’ this post; three or four more wrote to me to tell me that the post resonated with their experiences in higher education; and one former Ruskin figure told me that it had moved them profoundly.

Nonetheless, I came on here this evening to remove the post for all the reasons set out above and for one final and overarching reason – everything I want to try to do in this world I want to be an expression of non-violence, of peace, and love. Through my error, I created violence. I had, then, to do the best I possibly could to make amends and right the wrong.

Just before I went to remove the post, I noticed a comment from a student again directly arguing that the blame for the bad experience at Ruskin was not the students, nor neo-liberal higher education, but solely mine. Consequently, I cannot delete the post since that would involve deleting their comment and censoring them. Please see their comment and my response at the end of this post.

I made a mistake. It was a very naive one, but it was a genuine mistake. I have apologised to the relevant parties. It begs the question how one criticises an organisation in a genuinely loving and non-violent way. I clearly failed. I think the answer to that is very contextual, but I need to learn much more about non-violent communication and myself before I endeavour again. When I reflect now, I was writing from too emotional a space. My friend had been made redundant and I had heard of a culture of bullying. My own experiences of small, subtle things convinced me that there was substance to what I’d heard. However much I claimed to be writing from a position of love, I was not.

So, I offer a sincere apology to all those I have upset. This was not my intention. I thank all those who responded positively and negatively, particularly those who responded negatively. I learned most from you.

Onwards and upwards,

Joel

  2 comments for “A retraction and an apology

  1. Ruskin Student
    July 20, 2017 at 10:11 am

    I’ve written and rewritten this post about five times to try to frame it in a way that doesn’t sound as brutal. Yet, by doing this I seem to be dancing around the points. So I’m just to going lay it out.
    Your teaching style did not feel appropriate for an academic course. Rather than following the structure that fed into the essay questions you embarked on a sort of free flow of consciousness. This style may work well in a community setting where there is not an outcome to be met. But within a university setting this style didn’t seem to work. As students we have embarked on university education not only to enrich our knowledge base but to get a degree. For those of us who have had negative experiences of education in the past the attainment of a degree is a recognition that we’re not thick. Therefore, the idea of education for education’s sake is great but for me the outcome, a degree, is the main driver for me attending university.
    The reason many of us did not attend your class was because you did not facilitate an environment conducive with effective learning. Rather than enabling us to synthesise what we had been reading you confused members of the class by going off topic e.g. explaining your rationale behind your decision to get a vasectomy or proclaiming that capitalism would fall in a year if everybody meditated. Instead of engaging in the material that we had been set each week it felt more like the class was about what you wanted to discuss.
    To lay the student’s failure to attend your classes at the feet of neoliberalism would be a mistake. This is easily disputable when examining the attendance numbers of other classes undertaken by our cohort. Although numbers tend to dip around the weeks assessments are due. Generally I would argue that class attendance for other lecturers was around 80%. This clearly highlights that there was something specific about your teaching style and your inability to promote and engage in effective pedagogy.
    I agree with you that the neo-liberalisation of education is having a detrimental effect on students. Moreover, that the changes occurring in Ruskin College have and will continue to undermine students educational journeys. But I believe these are separate from the specific problems encountered within your class.
    The reason no one responded to your email is because many members of the class did not want to work with you. The class on many occasions asked you to stick to the structure or provide handouts for disabled students and these were ignored. This is not conducive with an effective anti-oppressive pedagogy. Rather, it reproduced the educational processes we experienced at school in which the teacher imposes a teaching model onto the class. Rather than listening to us you continued to dictate your own narrative around how and why we should be learning. This seems antithetical to a radical pedagogy.
    Because your style of teaching left us feeling confused about what we were supposed to be learning some of us decided to stop attending classes. As students we met outside of class to discuss political economy and help each other with readings and essays we were writing. The peer-to-peer learning we engaged in outside of class enabled me to engage in political economy at a deeper level. As a class we have supported each other through different periods over the last three years and for you to come in to teach for one module and reduce our lack of attendance as a by-product of neoliberalism seems snide. I think it’s good that you’re reflecting on your time at Ruskin but I honestly think you need to reflect on your teaching style and what your part was in the breakdown of an effective pedagogy within the class. I know some of this is a bit harsh but I didn’t wannabe around the bush. I hope some of these points assist you in reflecting on your practice.

    • July 20, 2017 at 8:20 pm

      Thank you for this. Genuinely, thank you.
      I came back to this blog at this moment to remove it in its entirely. I’ve been reflecting on it a great deal since writing it and I came back today to remove it. I will write another brief piece now about this. Now I’m in a new dilemma because in no way do I want to silence you by removing your comments. I came back to remove it because I think that, on balance, its publication was an error. Certain elements of it were more than an error – they were a grave and naive ethical misjudgment for which I apologise openly and sincerely.
      Equally, I’m not going to act on my instinct and defend myself. I have no desire to defend myself or, more accurately, I will resist the ego’s call to defend myself. I think there are many things I could say, but I will not. All I will communicate is that, while I will reflect on my practice as you rightly recommend, I still feel that this episode reflects more about the system rather than my personal pedagogy. So, fundamentally, my position has not changed at this juncture. What has changed is that I have learned a chastening and invaluable lesson on how to communicate it.
      I will now edit this original article with just my broad comments on the need for co-operative democratic higher education and your full comments left intact.
      I wish you every success for your future.
      Thank you again and my best wishes,
      Joel

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