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They Messed With the Wrong Blogger

Michele Kerr (she tells me it is pronounced “cur”) is a hard-working educator and Web surfer who is often mean to me. This is probably a good thing. When I post something stupid, Kerr—using her nom de Internet, “Cal Lanier”--is on me like my cat chasing a vole in the backyard.

Her acidic humor is so entertaining, however, and her command of the facts so complete, that I have come to look forward to her critiques. She tends to eviscerate me whenever I embrace anti-tracking or other progressive gospel preached in education schools these days, but I learn something each time.

I wish the supervisors of the Stanford Teacher Education Program (STEP) at that university’s School of Education had checked with me before they decided Kerr’s views and her blogging were inappropriate for a student in their program. They appeared to have decided her anti-progressive views were disrupting their classes, alienating other students and proving that she and Stanford were a bad fit. Kerr says they tried to stifle both her opinions and her blog, and threatened to withhold the Masters in Education she was working toward, based on their expressed fear that she was “unsuited for the practice of teaching.”

Kerr’s eventual triumph over such embarrassingly wrong-headed political correctness is a complicated story, but worth telling. In her struggle with STEP, she exposed serious problems in the way Stanford and, I suspect, other education schools, treat independent thinkers, particularly those who blog.

STEP retains the right to decide if a student is suited to teaching, and can deny even someone as smart and dedicated as Kerr, who has a splendid record as a tutor, a chance to work in the public schools.

Its leaders also can, the Kerr saga reveals, force a teacher candidate to stop blogging. Why? Because they have no defined policy on blogging. In Kerr’s case, they decided for themselves that she was stepping over some ill-defined line, and were careful to share their concerns with Kerr’s potential employers. In my view, that was so she would have less chance to land a job if they failed to deny her a credential.

At times, Kerr has made her Stanford tormentors look silly. There is, for instance, the email Kerr sent 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, disappointed me, and I suspect many of Kerr’s classmates, with their tone-deaf response. They 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.

I tried and failed to reach Lotan and Callan, as well as some others, by email and phone to get their responses. I will post their thoughts on the Class Struggle blog whenever they get back to me. Lisa Lapin, assistant vice president for university communications, sent me this statement on behalf of Stanford:

“Although there are generally at least two sides to every story, we cannot comment on the particulars of this case because the confidentiality of a student’s record is involved. Nevertheless, on two matters of academic principle we can be clear. First, the Stanford School of Education has never attempted to dismiss or discipline a student, either for having a blog or for espousing any particular set of beliefs. We stand firmly in support of intellectual freedom and the right of all students to express their views.

“Second, teachers, including student teachers at STEP, have ethical and legal obligations (e.g., under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) to maintain the privacy interests of the students who have been entrusted to their care.”

How did these otherwise sensible and well-regarded academic professionals twist themselves into such an untenable knot? The story, according to Kerr and copies of correspondence she gave me, begins on March 14, 2008, when she attended an open house for admitted students.

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. She knew her views were not in line with the education school’s progressive sensibilities, but she said she was willing to adjust to whatever she found in the public schools, in order to apply her talent for reaching poorly organized, under-motivated teenagers.

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. She also said she had no intention of making waves, but it was too late.

To some it was like telling Another Mother for Peace that George W. Bush was going to be their next guest speaker.

Lotan called Kerr in for a 45-minute session on her doubts about the STEP policy orientation. Wouldn’t she be more comfortable elsewhere? Even when university ombudsman David Arnot Rasch assured Kerr the offer of admission was binding, Lotan couldn’t let it go. 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.

“I really can’t believe this response,” the official said of Kerr’s decision to accept admission and decline another meeting with Lotan. “Are you forwarding her response to the lawyer?”

Kerr sought help from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a non-profit group based in Philadelphia that specializes in university free speech cases. FIRE staffer Adam Kissel wrote a letter to the president of Stanford. The senior university counsel answered, saying Kerr would start the program in June.

Over the summer and early fall, Kerr had no run-ins with STEP staff. There was no question of her academic abilities. She had scored a 780 in verbal and 800 in math on the Graduate Record Exam. She got good assessments in summer teaching and high grades in her summer courses. She began student teaching second-year algebra students at Sequoia High School, just north of Stanford in Redwood City.

But in September, Kerr’s blog, “Surviving Stanford,” which she had routinely referred to in her STEP classes, became an issue. Kerr is an expert in online communities and privacy, and thought she understood the rules. On her blog, she praised Sequoia and never identified Sequoia students directly or recognizably.

She did, however, discuss her disagreements with STEP’s progressive agenda. Although STEP had no anti-blogging policy and Kerr had broken no written rules the staff could identify, she was reprimanded by Callan and Lotan, who also notified Sequoia. The high school’s principal didn’t object, although she told Kerr she wasn’t thrilled, Kerr said. 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.

Meanwhile, Callan discovered that Kerr had continued blogging. He demanded the password. Kerr refused, saying that the blog didn’t identify Stanford and was outside its jurisdiction. Callan wrote a letter, copying Sequoia’s principal, accusing Kerr of "serious breaches of confidentiality," without specifying what Kerr had done. Kerr denies that she wrote anything even remotely inappropriate.

"If blogging is so unacceptable, why doesn’t Stanford have a blogging policy with guidelines?" she asked. Kissel, at FIRE, wrote another letter to Stanford that the hostile reception to Kerr’s views and blog “risks violating both its legal obligation to protect student speech under California’s Leonard Law, and its own policies regarding expressive conduct.”

Kerr filed a grievance with Deborah J. Stipek, the education school dean. That finally ended the game in her favor. Stipek did not grant any of Kerr’s complaints, although she agreed to look into drafting a blogging policy. Her main action was removing Lotan and Callan’s authority over Kerr, and giving Kerr a new supervisor, Megan Taylor.

“She was amazing,” Kerr said of Taylor. “I learned a lot from her, and trust me, I don’t say that often."

A new principal at Sequoia, aware of the controversy, declined to give Kerr a permanent job, Kerr said. She later received an offer to teach geometry, algebra and humanities at Oceana High School, on the Pacific side of the low mountains of the San Francisco peninsula.

Despite her struggles, Kerr says she is still glad she went to Stanford. "Yes, the year was an ordeal, but my fellow STEP classmates are amazingly talented, passionate people--and they aren’t all idealistic dreamers, I’m happy to say. While I disagree with STEP’s ideology, the staff is smart and dedicated. I had outstanding discussions with many instructors and professors, and I respect them all. Even Rachel. She’s just a ruthless political animal who believes she was protecting her program from enemy infiltration."

Kerr says she isn’t blogging at the moment, although comments from her alter ego, Cal Lanier, still pop up on the Web. She didn’t want me to identify her as a teacher blogger in the headline of this column, for fear it would spook her new employers. She said she will not blog about her job, and advises all teachers to be cautious.

She said she feels “teacher blogs are an open area crying out for guidelines--and not just at Stanford...The mere existence of a blog is considered trouble—even though there are literally thousands of teacher blogs out there.”

Many of the teacher blogs I read are interesting enough to get those fine educators into trouble, if administrators lose their perspective, as some at Stanford did. That's a shame. Students could learn from the kind of arguments Kerr and I have. There is much to be gained from challenging ill-examined assumptions, in class, in this column and in the ed school value systems that made Kerr’s pursuit of a teaching degree such an ordeal.

By Washington Post editors  | July 24, 2009; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  
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Interesting article, Jay. I'm not sure what Stanford's or Kerr's specific views on education are, but I'd guess mine line up closer with Kerr's.

However, I will say that the DOB email to her classmates was not the most professional way to handle the situation. I don't know if that is an isolated incident or representative of a larger pattern of behavior, but it certainly doesn't reflect well on her in my eyes.

Posted by: tomsing | July 24, 2009 12:18 PM | Report abuse

Seems to me, someone in this story is "unsuited to the practice of teaching" -- and it isn't Kerr!

Posted by: philautos | July 24, 2009 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Just wanted to say I read the first third of your article and I found nothing surprising about it. I had a similar experience in Graduate School in Education when the powers that be, i.e., some of them stiff as cardboard,guarded the door to the entrance of the school system.

It felt like the Gates of Hell to me. You know, I even saw the dogs.

Unimaginative and conventional thinkers. That's what I think of them.

Easily intimidated by novel or creative ideas and thinkers.

Like to stick with what's "known." Don't really want to open themselves up to new experiences, things they couldn't possibly imagine.

And people wonder why our education system is in a shambles? Well, this is at least part of the reason.

Posted by: zen99 | July 24, 2009 3:10 PM | Report abuse

There are probably a lot more students like Kerr at Stanford and other schools without someone like you to protect them. It would suggest that this school take a very close look at Lotan and Callan, and that Dean, too, with the idea of firing them. They are a danger to the free flow of ideas and excellence, everything school is supposed to be about.

Posted by: mibrooks27 | July 24, 2009 4:06 PM | Report abuse

When I went through teacher training on the East Coast, my mentor told me a story of being in a teachers' lounge when another teacher made an excellent suggestion for improvement. It was met with stony silence, and after said teacher left, the only comment made among the remaining teachers was, "Just who does she think she is?" Difference is not appreciated by any group.

That said, I have known two women who are amazingly like Kerr as you describe her: Highly intelligent but difficult. They are both manic depressives who do not handle their illness or medications well. Even though they are not socially attuned, they often do have valuable and interesting points to make.

Posted by: CarolineC | July 24, 2009 4:07 PM | Report abuse

"Academic politics are so vicious because the stakes are so low."

However, I have to agree with CarolineC. Some rather brilliant people have personalities that get in their way of doing anything positive.

Posted by: hisroc | July 24, 2009 4:25 PM | Report abuse

While I sympathize with Kerr and am happy she prevailed, I am nonetheless troubled by her need to have informaed Stanford that she disagreed with their progressive outlook. If she didn't like it, she could have gone somewhere else.

By entering the program she made a determination that getting the degree and becoming a teacher was more important than a difference in philosophy. Sometimes you have to decide whether or not something is a hill you want to die on, and I respectfully suggest that she picked the wrong hill.

But for everything else, she is spot on and I applaud her struggle for her rights and for her degree.

Posted by: thinman1 | July 24, 2009 4:27 PM | Report abuse

They are both manic depressives who do not handle their illness or medications well. Carolyn

Why do you say that?

Posted by: zen99 | July 24, 2009 4:49 PM | Report abuse

I have a great story about one of my experiences as a Substitute teacher in public schools in the Chicago suburbs.

I'm sure it wouldn't be popular to say something like this today, with all the bashing going on, but this is what this once teacher said around the year 2000.

She said when she first started teaching, they had separate lunchrooms for teachers, smokers and nonsmokers. And even though she wasn't a smoker, she said she always hung out with the smokers, because that's where all the interesting conversations were taking place, in a room packed with smokers.

Nobody interesting ever sat in the non-smoking room, she said.

I found that amusing and ironic...

Being both a smoker and as someone who was rejected by the Educational establishment.

Posted by: zen99 | July 24, 2009 4:55 PM | Report abuse

This is an incredible story. Shows how unprogressive and ideologically rigid are the people who administer the stanford teacher education program. They seem to insist upon clones adhering to their ideological educational outlook instead of independent thinkers. Sounds like something out of the cold war.

Posted by: Aprogressiveindependent | July 24, 2009 6:05 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for posting this story. I'm glad she prevailed. Sometimes those in education become the thing they started off wanting not to become. Groups like FIRE help people keep their right to free thought and expression. It's amazing that we need them today. People should never knuckle under; but I agree with above comments, Kerr should have maintained total professionalism, if only to give her professors more grief. I'm sure she learned from the situation. Good luck to her while teaching; I bet her kids do well and that she doesn't take any excuses from them for poor performance.

I've love to see a follow up article if those professors ever get back to you. Maybe they should take a sensitivity class to learn to deal with varying viewpoints.

Posted by: dellbabe68 | July 24, 2009 6:31 PM | Report abuse

Very interesting story, Jay. I had read some of Cal_Lanier's entries on the blog. There was nothing that could be construed as defamatory or offensive. Stanford's treatment of Kerr (and you DO know what a 'cur' is, right?" is a clear example of the Progressive's none too progressive thinking when it comes to freedom of thought and expression.

I do suppose that is why Cal and I agree on most things. ;-)

Posted by: lisamc31 | July 24, 2009 7:11 PM | Report abuse

Before everyone cries for Michelle Kerr, you should know that she runs a forum called the Perfect World ( where she regularly spews racist and sexist views of education under the moniker CalGal.

Check out this gem:

And this:

There's a whole thread on the forum called Race and Racism and you can get your fill of her views there. I would not want this woman blogging about my child. or teaching her or any child I knew.

Posted by: Nomi3 | July 24, 2009 7:20 PM | Report abuse

A few thoughts: First, STEP's program isn't for everyone. There are lots of teacher education programs, and really good ones, and I'm sure that if Kerr wanted a program that aligned closely with the beliefs she had coming in, she could have found one. Instead, it seems she felt as determined to force her beliefs on an established program as she felt it was determined to force its beliefs on her--not a lot of give and take in either direction.

Second, as a teacher, I can attest to the fact that tactful compromise and professionalism are as key to being a "suitable teacher" as any sort of academic talent or pedagogical conviction. If Stanford had doubts about Kerr's "suitability," I think it's highly possible that they stemmed from how she handled this conflict, rather than from any dogmatic adherence to educational philosophy.

Third, a crucial part of becoming a teacher is the ability to learn from diverse viewpoints (your teachers', your colleagues', your students'), reflect on what you've learned, and grow from that experience. I wonder how much Kerr actually grew from her experience at Stanford. If all she did was successfully irk the "powers that be" at a respected institution without ever questioning her own prior beliefs, I'd say she missed out on a big opportunity.

Posted by: janer24 | July 24, 2009 7:33 PM | Report abuse

Stanford has a stringent review process for publishing anything about students, especially those who are minors. A person associated with Stanford cannot simply go ahead and write about her students in a public forum -- there is a whole policy and procedure around doing such things, that is also audited from time to time by the federal government. Anyone familiar with higher education knows about it, and it applies to liberals and conservatives alike.

In sum, Stanford does have a policy for representing yourself as associated with them and then proceeding to write about your students without oversight.

Posted by: member8 | July 24, 2009 7:34 PM | Report abuse


you from BadgerWorld, Drive We Said, or IdeaSource?

Posted by: fontbonne1 | July 24, 2009 9:37 PM | Report abuse

Let me get this straight. A disgruntled graduate of Stanford contacts a Washington Post reporter to complain about her mistreatment, and he awards her with a full column railing against “embarrassingly wrong-headed political correctness.” I don’t know the actual details of the conflict, but it seems pretty likely that Mathews doesn’t either, given that he apparently doesn’t bother to confirm her story with additional sources. Does he really believe that Kerr is above reproach here? Just reading her own words in this column suggests there’s more going on here than Mathews’ convoluted retelling would have us believe. Yes, it would be a good idea to challenge “ill-examined assumptions”—perhaps Mathews can give it a try as well. Or perhaps he will be even more satisfied with the attention his column has drawn, regardless of what it took to garner it. It is at least somewhat ironic that blogging is defended by an online column lacking in basic journalistic ethics. Hopefully the Post print edition has higher standards.

Posted by: rawlsie | July 24, 2009 11:44 PM | Report abuse

For Nomi3: thanks for the links to Kerr's web site. I read the first one, which I assume you think is the most egregious, and saw nothing racist. She is arguing against affirmative action, in an aggressive way. I don't agree with her but you should point out to me and other readers what exactly she said that you qualify as racist before giving people a false and defaming impression that you cannot sustain in a real argument.
For rawisie: I know it is a long piece, but I hope you have a chance to read it in full. As I indicated in the piece, I was careful to seek comment from everyone named. I emailed Lotan and Callan four days before the piece ran and then put phone messages on their work phones. The university spokesperson, obviously speaking for them and STEP, responded to my separate contact with the university news office, and I ran her statement prominently, and at length. For the last 24 years, I have checked facts in all of my pieces in a way that is so careful it violates the rules at some newspapers, including my own. As I did in this case, I send drafts of the entire piece to all sources and ask them to tell me if there are any errors. This is taboo in most newsrooms, but the Post has given me a waiver from our rule against it (a rule that makes no sense to me) because it has worked so well for me over the years. You saw the university's response, which included NO indications that anything in the piece was factually inaccurate. Instead, they had a different view of the facts. The FIRE spokesman and one of the teachers Kerr worked with told me of errors which I corrected before publication. As I said in the piece, I am eager to publish Lotan's and Callan's views on this controversy whenever they get back to me. I am puzzled that you think I have lacked journalistic ethics. If I have missed something, please let me know.

Posted by: jaymathews | July 25, 2009 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Nothing about this article is surprising to me.
Kerr's experience is coherent with the average college experience and the average pecking order at any university. The difference is that she is clearly not intimidated by people who thrive on pushing their agenda on people under 25, who by and large just want to get through school and will nod their heads and agree with everything to do so. She is more sophisticated than the average grad student. Mistaking freedom of thought with "unprofessionalism" and possible mental illness, as many of the commenters do here, is a typical way of scapegoating dissent, even very mild dissent. To those who say she should have found a different school, it appears to me that Kerr lives in the Bay Area, that Stanford is a top school in her area, and she should not have to shop around and move elsewhere to avoid the top school in her area because it looks down on her viewpoint. If the top school cannot accept alternate viewpoints, then by definition it becomes not much of a top school over time. People like Kerr keep for these bastions of ''liberalism'' any reputations of excellence they continue to have.

Posted by: millerresponsible | July 25, 2009 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Nothing about this article is surprising to me.
Kerr's experience is coherent with the average college experience and the average pecking order at any university. The difference is that she is clearly not intimidated by people who thrive on pushing their agenda on people under 25, who by and large just want to get through school and will nod their heads and agree with everything to do so. She is more sophisticated than the average grad student. Mistaking freedom of thought for "unprofessionalism" and possible mental illness, as many of the commenters do here, is a typical way of scapegoating dissent, even very mild dissent. To those who say she should have found a different school, it appears to me that Kerr lives in the Bay Area, that Stanford is a top school in her area, and she should not have to shop around and move elsewhere to avoid the top school in her area because it looks down on her viewpoint. If the top school cannot accept alternate viewpoints, then by definition it becomes not much of a top school over time. People like Kerr keep for these bastions of ''liberalism'' any reputations of excellence they continue to have.

Posted by: millerresponsible | July 25, 2009 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Nomi3 - I read the posts you gave links to. There's no way that these can or should be read as "racist." The mere fact that they are about race and you don't agree with them does not make them "racist."

"Racist" is the new "wolf."

Posted by: punditius | July 25, 2009 2:08 PM | Report abuse

I post at TPW, for anyone who's curious.

Posted by: Nomi3 | July 25, 2009 2:53 PM | Report abuse

***Mathews wrote: “I send drafts of the entire piece to all sources and ask them to tell me if there are any errors. . . . You saw the university's response, which included NO indications that anything in the piece was factually inaccurate. Instead, they had a different view of the facts.”***

With all those years of experience, surely you know that STEP officials can’t respond to the details of Kerr’s allegations without violating FERPA (they indicated as much in their official statement). And it seems to me pretty clear from their statement that they felt their side to the story wasn’t being told; your claim that there was “NO indication” to the contrary is wishful thinking at best. When FERPA is involved in a case like this, for you to imply that a lack of detailed rebuttal constitutes confirmation of Kerr’s story suggests that you are either naïve or disingenuous in your reporting.

Posted by: rawlsie | July 25, 2009 3:19 PM | Report abuse

My wife, who grew up in Cultural-Revolution China, was excluded from school events and organizations, because she had relatives "overseas" and make the mistake of speaking about them.

I see the same reactionary ideology from many so-called "liberal arts" colleges in the USA.

Posted by: pgr88 | July 25, 2009 3:30 PM | Report abuse

This is an extremely interesting piece and one I never thought to find in the WaPo.

My husband and I were talking about education today in the context of Detroit schools graduating only 25% of its kids from HS and how shameful that was.

Whenever eduation is spoken about and how we need improvements, we are very rarely talking about improving education for children - it's more a jobs program for teachers.

Unfortunately the teachers are more like what Stanford spews out rather than Ms Kerr.

Posted by: bandmom22 | July 25, 2009 7:12 PM | Report abuse

I'm floored by Nomi3's misrepresentation, and I suspect (her) reaction is similar to the purported reaction of fellow students at Stanford. Kerr is as far from "racist" and "sexist" as one can get. What some regard as a flaw is something I regard as her best trait, objectivity. This is what enables her to be "fatally truthful." And this is coming from someone who has debated with her for twelve or thirteen years... and has been kicked off TPW. And I deserved it, longstanding relationship notwithstanding.

You will never encounter a more straightforward, fearless, honest person in your entire life. Unfortunatly, this doesn't seem to be acceptable to some at Stanford. On the other hand, it's good that it is for some. So. What happened is unfortunate, but the outcome is well-deserved and appropriate.

"Messed with the wrong blogger" is perfect.

Posted by: rdbrewer | July 25, 2009 8:00 PM | Report abuse

This is an interesting article to read in the context of Michele Kerr’s online interactions. There has been online speculation that Stanford’s concerns are not with her “Surviving Stanford” blog but, instead, with The Perfect World – a discussion forum that Kerr co-founded as “CalGal” and runs with revenue created by online ads and subscriptions paid by forum participants. Kerr has always been quick to point out that running this forum is a profession. While Stanford indicated that they would never dismiss or discipline a student for espousing their own beliefs, might they have taken a look at posts like the following and had serious reservations about Kerr’s level of professionalism?(Warning: NSFW.)

Aside from her frequent use of inflammatory language, Kerr’s posts on The Perfect World also indicate that she has difficulty seeing any other point of view other than her own. Perhaps Stanford was concerned about this trait in an educator; it might pose problems when Kerr is facing an argumentative teenager or a co-worker who disagrees with her.

While I agree that the links posted upthread do not sufficiently demonstrate that Kerr possesses racist or sexist views, there is material on her forum which could indicate otherwise. (Her views aren’t always easily categorized by labels – she has also posted attacks on the Amish, librarians, and adoptive parents, among others.) Though Stanford has made it clear that those views alone would not be sufficient in motivating their attempts to dismiss Kerr, perhaps the language and presentation of those beliefs was discomfiting to them.

I’m curious whether or not her persona on The Perfect World was taken into consideration during the research for this article. Either way, it raises interesting questions regarding how, when, where, and why we are judged on our online interactions.

Posted by: member8 | July 26, 2009 12:10 AM | Report abuse

Um, Member8? Your other name isn't Nomi3, is it?

Posted by: rdbrewer | July 26, 2009 5:36 AM | Report abuse

rdbrewer knows very well that there are scores of people who think Kerr is an appalling human being just from interacting with her online. He himself was thrown off The Perfect World because of his untreated mental health issues.

No, I'm not either member8 nor Nomi3. I think Kerr has edited some of her previous posts to remove the more disgusting of her viewpoints, such as the belief that African Americans are less intelligent than whites. Or that women go to professional schools (law school, for instance) just to find men to marry so that they can become housewives.

Posted by: cindy6789 | July 26, 2009 9:00 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the heads-up, Cindy6789. You are correct. I just checked and the post I linked to has been heavily edited to remove the amazingly creative gratuitous insults that peppered it previously. I suspect that will be the case on any links that are posted from this point out.

As Kerr is frequent to point out, "her forum, her rules."

Posted by: member8 | July 26, 2009 9:54 AM | Report abuse

I consider this story to be quite one-sided airing only one side of the STEP story from someone who sounds like a very dogmatic, independent, difficult person. This is not good reporting in my opinion, and certainly not up to the usual standards of the Washing Post.

Our son went thru the Stanford STEP program a year ago and had a wonderful experience, and we have met several others from his class who are quite impressive, independent-minded and talented teachers now. As with other STEP grads we have come to meet, my wife, a former teacher, and I are thankful that so many talented, dedicated individuals are entering the profession.

Having started and run a number of businesses myself, we always looked for strong-minded, independent thinkers who could thrive in a team environment where the ability to listen to others was as important as the ability to articulate strongly held views. Seems to me that Ms. Kerr's lack of interest in and openness to others is what led to the negative experience at Stanford and that the problem was hers not Stanford's.

Posted by: MenloParkBob | July 26, 2009 10:51 AM | Report abuse

Kerr's unedited post can be found here (scroll down to post 9672):

and I've placed a screenshot of it here:

I've also posted a image comparing the two in case any future edits occur:

While I still don't believe that the links Nomi posted are proof of sexist or racist beliefs, Google shows that Kerr also made minor edits to those posts. If Kerr finds these examples of her style objectionable enough to change them once they are singled out, it's conceivable that Stanford found them objectionable, too.

Posted by: member8 | July 26, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse

(1) That's great, Mr. Mathews, that you show your drafts to your sources. That's obviously the best way to make sure stories are accurate. I bet newspapers generally have a policy against it because it makes meeting deadlines tough, and the newspapers don't want to admit that they have to sacrifice accuracy for timeliness.

(2) The federal student privacy regulations, FERPA, are a classic example of stupid, backfiring, regulations. Universities have learned to use them as an excuse not to comment when they abuse student or faculty rights, and to cover up all the relevant facts. For any reader: Be on the lookout for the common situation when a university uses FERPA to admit to facts about a person that that person would love to have proved to show that they are right and the university is wrong. "We can't discuss personnel matters" is a similar excuse for suppressing whistleblowing.

Posted by: erasmuse | July 26, 2009 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Lotan and Callan’s behavior is SHOCKING AND NOT AT ALL SUPRISING!


People who operate from fear, practice collusion, avoid communication in lieu of Machiavellian manipulation HAVE RUINED, AND ARE STILL RUNNING OUR EDUCATION INDUSTRY.

The education industry's colossal failure over the last 60 years is 100% their own fault.

Teachers do not want accountability.

Teachers do want a free ride from responsibility for their work product via tenure - disgusting and un-American.

Failed teachers go into administration, or teaching/ruining would-be teachers in college or university and the failure is perpetuated as their failed ideas move through the pool of future teachers like a cancer.

Fear and failure define our modern, and completely failed education industry's leaders.

Posted by: onestring | July 26, 2009 2:31 PM | Report abuse

member8 and naomi, that you are outraged doesn't mean anyone who looks at the posts will be. Your sensibilities are offended, fine, why not write about them? Accusations of racism, sexism, and dishonesty should be made when warranted, keeps the world honest; but nothing either of you have cited demonstrates anything but your desire to dismiss Ms Kerr. Both of you have violated the fundamental rule of criticism: to give an account of the view you find objectionable that reasonable people will find reasonable. Your links don't say what you think they do: what they show is your tribalism getting the better of your discernment. And why no link to a comment about a specific child? If you haven't got one, best to remove that accusation from your indictment.

Having taught both at Stanford and at another university with a large education school my own view is that the world would do better without ed schools. If you think this is harsh read a recent year's worth of dissertation abstracts. Possessing police powers granted to no other degree granting program it isn't surprising they've turned into cults. If we're hearing more about them it maybe that some have reached the stage where a cult becomes paranoid. a fear and anger that cloaks itself in truths gone rabid.

Posted by: madprof4 | July 26, 2009 2:33 PM | Report abuse

To see a comment she made about a specific child, along with a video she posted of him, see post 2694 in the Teaching for Fun and Profit thread. But act fast, because the threads where she has posted the most objectionable material are disappearing from the forum.

Posted by: Susannah2 | July 26, 2009 3:14 PM | Report abuse

Is posting videos of your students online acceptable teaching practice? I certainly wouldn't want a teacher posting a clip of my child without my knowledge or permission.

Of course she has removed it now. But it was up there for several months.

Posted by: cindy6789 | July 26, 2009 5:09 PM | Report abuse

Jay, I had the misfortune of being around people like Stanford Univ. CoE.

Total waste of time, money and effort.

They are proof-positive of waste, mendacity, and outright financial theft in the PUBLIC EDUCATION MONOPOLY.

They are sick, pathetic and disgusting. Lie No. 1 -- "we're doing it for the children."

No -- they are doing it for a paycheck. And if the D.C. plutocrats cared about children, they would be VOUCHERS! And CHOICES!

This is just the tip of the iceberg. A bigger theft than Watergate.

Posted by: russpoter | July 26, 2009 6:27 PM | Report abuse

If in fact material from her blog is coming down in reaction to the comments here then I have a hard time accepting that the posts were "just fine" as they were. Hiding evidence is generally a pretty good indication of a problem...

Posted by: bobtom222 | July 26, 2009 10:09 PM | Report abuse

I'm actually shocked that further investigation of Ms. Kerr's credibility wasn't even considered before this post article was published. I've read her blog and she's either mentally ill and/or an alcoholic/drug addict. She certainly has no business being around children.

Posted by: gregkbell | July 26, 2009 11:32 PM | Report abuse

Madprof4: To clarify, I did not use either the word "objectionable" or "offensive" in my previous posts, as I agree with you that those are purely subjective terms. My citing the language and manner of discourse she uses on her discussion forum was intended to posit that Stanford might have taken issue with her professionalism -- i.e., her behavior in the workplace (as she considers The Perfect World her place of business).

Unfortunately, it's difficult to discuss specifics, as she has spent the last 24 hours removing threads and editing posts that could be called into question (unless preserved by Google like the one in my previous post) -- indicating that she, herself, believes that they could be seen as inappropriate.

Of course, whether or not The Perfect World played a part in this story can only be known by the administration at Stanford -- and the law prohibits them from taking part in this conversation.

Posted by: member8 | July 27, 2009 12:04 AM | Report abuse

Correction: I did use the word "objectionable," but in reference to Kerr's or Stanford's possible feelings on the posts, *not* my own.

Posted by: member8 | July 27, 2009 12:15 AM | Report abuse

Michele Kerr is very well-known in the online world. She's been posting her views and interacting with people online for a good dozen years or more. She does have defenders, and since a link was posted to this article from The Perfect World, her defenders are going to show up here to lend their support.

After reading her posts on various fora for years now, I would take a child of mine out of any public school that hired Michele Kerr as a teacher. And I'm far from alone in that.

Posted by: rscott3 | July 27, 2009 5:54 AM | Report abuse

I have known Michele Kerr online for a decade. If I had white teenage boys, I'm sure she'd be a fine teacher for them. If my kids were of color or girls, I would never, ever let them set foot in her classroom. She would have to be a magnificent actress to prevent her poisonous attitudes coming out in the classroom, and everyone who knows her knows that she prides herself on ruthless honesty.

One thing I never thought she was was a coward. If she's going back and editing old posts to hide her true beliefs, I guess I was wrong about that.

Posted by: maria24 | July 27, 2009 7:49 AM | Report abuse

Whether or not one agrees with this woman or not is beside the point. What is more important here is the way that the "educational establishment" tries to control dissent. It is far more important to most administrators that their teachers do not make waves than it is to actually teach students. Sadly, one of the ways this is perpetuated is through the credentialing machines known as ed schools.

They teach conformity to a certain underlying philosophy which is then perpetuated. I look at my own education and know many fine college professors who were natural born teachers and have educated generations of students. But they would not be allowed to set foot in a public school classroom (and, even worse, some private schools have allowed their public school competition to call the shots and they too only hire "certified teachers) because they lacked a piece of paper despite their fine record.

I fondly remember when I was in college that two government professors (one liberal and one conservative) would frequently debate issues in the news in the auditorium during lunch breaks. We were treated to rational polite debates with no shouting nor talking over one another -- imagine how much better political TV could be with those qualities -- which shed much more light than heat and respected us enough to make out own minds up at the end. These profs were in the same department. I cannot imagine an education dept. where such diametrical opposites do this. But that would be great for the country.

Instead the teacher who does not rock the boat, passes most students whether they deserve it or not, does not push discipline enough to trigger a parental call to the principal or superintendent, etc. will continue to work there with satisfactory evaluations. But the creative teacher who wishes to impose standards, enforce discipline, expect more from the students than they think they can do, etc. will no doubt be shown the door not officially because of these attributes but because those in authority cannot take the heat.

Stanford seems to be perpetuating this.

As I said in the beginning, I do not know enough about Kerr to evaluate her particular views, only to defend her right to express them. But what your article really says is how important it is for us to retain seniority for teachers. That way, she and others can continue to bring up issues and force them to be considered even it not adopted. Otherwise, the system is perpetuated and like Stanford, they would not even allow them to surface.

Posted by: TomfromNJ1 | July 27, 2009 9:46 AM | Report abuse

>>I'm actually shocked that further investigation of Ms. Kerr's credibility wasn't even considered before this post article was published.

Exactly. Her sexist and racist views, and her disgust with women, particularly young women (she likes to call them "twitches," not like the "teen witches" movie but, as she explained more than once, because they "twitch their asses" and thus exert their power over young men), was in evidence in many places on the web. She has taken down or edited the literally hundreds of racist/sexist spews at The Perfect World, and even posted to that effect.

No matter what issues Stanford had with her (and who knows what is true here, since she regularly edits history on her blog, her forum, and elsewhere), she is hardly a poster child for freedom of expression or the wise but unconventional teacher who reaches kids in ways other teachers can't. She's a nut. And that's okay, it's not illegal to be a nut. It's not illegal to be racist or sexist or both. But I would argue that both those things make you completely unfit to teach girls or any non-Caucasian students. I have never argued with my child's placement with a particular teacher or a school, and I am far from anyone's idea of politically correct, but I would quit my job and homeschool before I let Kerr teach my daughter.

Posted by: Elizabeth66 | July 27, 2009 10:38 AM | Report abuse

I started out on Mrs. Kerr's side when reading this blog post. Even though I found the tone of her email to her classmates a little rough, I didn't think there was anything wrong with the basic message. And I've seen enough bureaucracies to know they can be a bit tiresome if you're not a follow-the-leader type.

But after reading the cached version of that comment on her message board, and seeing that she does, in fact, go back and edit her posts to make them look more civil than they originally were, I can't help but think we're missing a large part of the story here.

Posted by: dkp01 | July 27, 2009 10:42 AM | Report abuse

To Nomi 3 -

All three of your links are to the same page and there is no section on the site on Race and Racism. What is your agenda?

Posted by: Reader4 | July 27, 2009 10:51 AM | Report abuse

Wait. Waitwaitwaitwait. Why is this debate still framed as though the sole issue Stanford had was with Kerr's ideological beliefs? Ten posts above, someone has posted directions on accessing a link on her discussion forum -- not her Stanford blog -- that leads to a video in which she disciplines a child for misbehavior in the classroom. In the posts following the link, she proceeds to dissect the child's "weird" personality in great detail. Not only is the student in question identifiable, but six or seven of his classmates are as well. Now, despite Kerr's disingenuous claims to the contrary, this is, quite plainly and without question, a HUGE breach of confidentiality, violates FERPA, and is, frankly, an indication that there is a significant issue with her judgement. Plus, it was posted on her discussion forum, where (I'm assuming), traffic would be heavier than at her Stanford blog. This is one incident -- who knows how many others there were on the Stanford blog when Stanford first became aware of it? Here's a thought: why doesn't Kerr consider signing a waiver to allow Stanford to enter this dialogue freely? Otherwise, I have a strong feeling we are not getting anywhere close to the whole story.

Huh. Just checked the posted video again to make sure my facts were straight. Not surprisingly, she took it down yesterday (though it appears to have been up for over two months). Her comments, describing the video in great detail, remain. Don't know for how long, though.

Posted by: Ed14 | July 27, 2009 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Reader4 -- if you'll note, the majority of posts after Nomi's initial linking indicate that, after links started appearing in the comments, Kerr began editing her posts. Apparently, that was taking up too much of her time and she resorted to deleting entire threads. Her discussion forum is radically different today than when I first started reading it on Friday.

Posted by: Ed14 | July 27, 2009 10:56 AM | Report abuse

"Weird" is a favorite term for Kerr to use to describe any child she doesn't much like. In the past she's used the word to describe the children of posters to her forum who got higher SAT scores than her son did.

You'd think someone who wants to be a teacher would like children, but Kerr is vicious to entire subsets: girls, the nonwhite, boys who do well in school (unlike her son)...

Posted by: cindy6789 | July 27, 2009 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Here is a link from the internet archive that shows the existence of the deleted racism thread. Unfortunately, it only shows the first page of the thread, from six years ago (Kerr has become increasingly virulent and, uh, nutty over the years, so her posts on the page below seem downright reasonable compared to what she's posted and published since). That thread was thousands of posts long when it was recently deleted.

Posted by: Elizabeth66 | July 27, 2009 11:44 AM | Report abuse

I find it very interesting that she is now sanitizing her forum to the point of deleting whole threads. She used to be adamant that her forum was equivalent to a library and the people who posted there were publishing. What would happen if a librarian started throwing away books because she decided she didn't like the content? Because she's not just deleting her own words, she's getting rid of things that many other people said, too.

She must be very afraid right now. If she is in the right, she shouldn't have anything to be afraid of.

Posted by: maria24 | July 27, 2009 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Matthews, I am sorry you have been so taken in. It does not speak well of your judgement that you have taken up the cause of this individual. I'm sure there are far worse people out there teaching, and I wish her and her students the best. But there has to be someone more stable and thoughtful out there to serve as the poster child for the ills of the teacher-education system.

Posted by: pjane | July 27, 2009 1:05 PM | Report abuse

I just wanted to comment after reading this blog that most of the program's students supported Michelle through this long ordeal.

When she graduated, she got the loudest and longest applause from all of our graduating STEP class, mainly for all the unnecessary and unfair mistreatment she had received from the program. Was she obnoxious most of the time? Yes. But was she a person who genuinely cared for her students, had passion for teaching, and was an effective and successful educator? Yes.

Stanford's treatment of her was appalling and even worse was the way in which they had tried so hard to put the entirety of their actions of someone they panned off as someone who the class found "hard to deal with" when in reality they just didn't want to deal with her themselves.

It was very refreshing to read this article as I feel that it seems to accurately portray the case of what has occurred. The actions of the administration at STEP were horrible and should be brought to light.

Posted by: paststudent1 | July 27, 2009 1:15 PM | Report abuse

from dheinke, who sent it to me because it didnt post here when he tried it:
I am a STEP alum from the year before Ms. Kerr. I should open by stating that I had a very positive experience. It is unfortunate that, due to FERPA restrictions, STEP administrators cannot reply to such a provocative article. While I am ultimately commenting on the “freedom of speech vs. unprofessionalism” issue, I wanted to make note of two things:
1. Megan Taylor IS a brilliant educator. She deserves any and all accolades.
2. I say this without wanting to dishonor Ms. Kerr’s STEP experience, which sounds like it was unpleasant for her, but I had to stifle a chuckle when she called Rachel Lotan a “ruthless political animal.” Again, I do not want to glibly dismiss her opinion, but I will point out that it is not at all universally shared. In my experience, Rachel Lotan is a dedicated educator who pushed and challenged me for 51 weeks (the length of the program), and is nice! For all who are riled up, please remember that not everybody gets along with everybody.
I met Ms. Kerr briefly at the beginning of her STEP year, but my main experience with her has been through her blog, which a fellow alum pointed me towards mid-summer. Those who read it were privy to some pretty intense verbal eye-rolling. Again, she could be delightful in person for all I know, but her written voice painted her as being ideologically inflexible and cocky. People can go to school where they like, but STEP was an odd choice for her. She seemed to take delight in how diametrically opposed she was to the teaching ideologies of her professors and colleagues. More than once, I made the sarcastic comment to myself—“Wow, she totally knows better than all these people!”
But I want to talk about the appropriateness of blogging about where you work vs. freedom of speech. To paraphrase comedian Patton Oswalt: there’s a reason scientists aren’t trying to make cancer airborne and contagious—this is a case of “shoulda” rather than “coulda.” Some posts, and the article (implicitly) applauds her ruffling feathers with her blog—free speech! To those who admire this quality, kindly follow in her footsteps. First, set up a blog whose readership mostly consists of your co-workers; then, engage in the aforementioned verbal eye-rolling with regards to your bosses, and to a lesser extent your co-workers; third, if your bosses don’t like it, just put a password on the blog—the name of the blog will do; last, when you get in trouble, send a mass email to all your colleagues in which you call them out for feeling uncomfortable about the blog, which simultaneously includes the group in your issues while inserting venom into the social culture of your workplace. Any takers? I’m not trying to suggest that we shouldn’t have the freedom to think and say what we believe, but it would be foolish to think there isn’t a lot of overlap in the “freedom of speech/ unprofessionalism” Venn diagram. I would not at all suggest that Ms. Kerr is not exceedingly intelligent and articulate, but I will say that I think her professional judgment is rather poor.
You’ll notice that several posts have some words IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. This is written language limitation #1: the limitation of verbal inflection. The other problem with blogging about work/school (in the style of Ms. Kerr) is that you are inserting the gravitas of semi-published written words into a discussion that would be more at place at a post-work happy hour. And while drinking an Anchor Steam face-to-face, it’s easy to say, “that’s not exactly what I mean” or “well, I’m sort of exaggerating here.” Not so easy with a blog. I mean, clearly I’m responding to your article, Mr. Mathews, but we aren’t exactly having a discussion over lunch.
I find it highly unlikely that she didn’t know exactly what buttons she was pressing at STEP. Who does that? Simply put, if Ms. Kerr’s blog is her real voice, I do not at all want to be her colleague.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | July 27, 2009 1:58 PM | Report abuse

I wouldn't want boys in a bigoted teacher's classroom either.

Posted by: potine41 | July 27, 2009 2:45 PM | Report abuse

this from Betty Hood, who also had troublin posting:
Still haven't gotten to the story.  (too busy).  So I don't know... when I'm gonna get to it.
But I find it ironic that somehow when I do come here I come straight to the comments.  I find out more interesting things said there than the actual article. 
Also, more interesting things going on in this section. 
Such, the post alleging the racist views of this woman are available by clicking on her link.  When someone here checked it out and returned to report what he/she read there did not seem racist at all.  It was simply a personal position on Affirmative Action.  I know a lot of teachers who say Affirmative Action is a joke. What most of them mean, however, is that AA is no longer necessary.  It served its purpose in History.  So it’s time to move on.  Set up new worlds to discover and battle injustice there. 
A real obvious problem to me is the incredible stigma those students who are physically isolated from the rest of the school…in one school they are housed in the basement, with their own entrances and exits…because of their emotional and behavioral issues. That’s the lingo. These students have issues as though they are the only ones who do.
One kid who clicked with me said, “I just can’t stand it!   Luca (I loved his name because I heard it on a Suzanne Vega song) was visibly distressed when he told me this.  One hand was rubbing the side of his forehead and the other hand clutched his waist.    
….However, back to those teachers who are opposed to AA, they would never come out and say such a thing, because they know it's politically incorrect.
(Sorry I've stumbled into this comment section...  It's because it had to do with Education, and I've just had some strange and many, many good experiences with students.  So.  Unfortunately for you guys...sorry...I've started to blabber about Education now.  At times I may not even make any sense.  But when you get to end it all makes sense.  That's what I keep telling my husband who annoys me with questions after reading the first paragraph!)
Anyway, I have never in 12 years as a Substitute teacher (that means I see an immensely diverse population) have I ever had a bad experience with a student.  The problems they faced as students were various.
The profession of teaching really needs to use a new approach toward teaching.  Whatever model they've been using for the past 25 years doesn't work today.  Not only that.  It also didn't produce the scholars we needed to keep us competitive with Japan, for example.  It's been a total failure.  Kids in schools today are dummed down kids.  These kids know what their priorities are, and have a nose for bullshit.  The Education system as it currently is has failed to reach them.  That's right.  It's the job of Educational leaders to remain progressive, always looking for new ways to reach students, but in reality, not many teachers are that way. 
I have no idea what to really call it? 
A Malaise, perhaps? 
It's as though this past generation of leaders either have no idea what's going on, or else, they've come to accept the comfort and pleasures their position brings, and are maybe no longer interested in teaching, maybe? 
Could that be a possibility?
I am SO glad I switched directions and didn't go into the system as teacher but rather as a substitute teacher, where it's more like being a roving reporter, if you are so inclined, and you have the opportunity to watch a trend as it develops over the years. 
Yeah, right.
If I had gone into the system as it now exists, I would've been dead a long time ago.  No kidding.  All the Bullshit.  It would have killed me!
I don't know...why or how this happened however.
I just remember the standards I grew up with in grade school, and we were doing more stuff than they do in public high school.  I went to a parochial school, so I guess that influences my thinking.  Still.  It’s no excuse for what has happened in this country.
I betcha anything John Dewey is turning over in his grave right now.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | July 27, 2009 2:59 PM | Report abuse

Betty Hood, Michele Kerr is, by her own admission, removing things from her website that might reflect badly on her. The original post was there when the person posted the link, and now it's gone. I imagine Ms. Kerr wants to keep the job she has now, and that's why she's deleting.

Somebody posted a screen cap of one of her posts: That will give you an idea who Michele Kerr really is.

Posted by: maria24 | July 27, 2009 3:19 PM | Report abuse

Given how easy it is to do research on on-line activities these days, Stanford, Mathews, and Oceana High School did a shameful job screening this woman before accepting anything she had to say as truthful or reasonable. There's no academic or philosophical controversy here. Kerr has been proudly proclaiming her racist, sexist, breathtakingly nasty POV on public forums for over a decade. Until now--when she decides maybe all that hate might be bad for her bottom line. She will be a horror in the classroom.

A sample quote:

CalGal -- Thursday, October 26, 2006 -- 02:51:45 AM -- 2648 of 3990

[ ... ]

Filipino nurses are maybe a curbside higher than a Mexican day laborer. A little bit more education and at least they're legal. But that's about it.

Posted by: jgerard14 | July 27, 2009 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Maria24 -- you said that "by her own admission" Kerr is removing things from her website. Has she made a statement somewhere referring to her reasons for doing so?

Posted by: member8 | July 27, 2009 3:48 PM | Report abuse

CalGal -- Friday, July 24, 2009 -- 08:58:52 PM -- 2787 of 2809

I am scared. But I promised myself I would go public if I made it through. I have scoured my forum for stuff that I couldn't live with.

Someone should probably screen cap that before it disappears.

Posted by: maria24 | July 27, 2009 3:55 PM | Report abuse

So. This was a case of a blogger standing up for her principles until a few people on the internet started posting links to said principles? That was worth an entire column?

Posted by: member8 | July 27, 2009 4:21 PM | Report abuse

Wait a minute, let me get this straight-- after declaring herself ideologically at odds with the program from the time she entered it, having issues with tardiness and professionalism, failing to maintain student confidentiality, and generally presenting herself as a thorn in the side of her instructors, administrators, and apparently even her fellow students, Ms. Kerr was allowed to complete the program and receive her credential?

All this says to me is that Stanford is to be commended for putting up with a very difficult person who clearly had an agenda of her own and entered their program with no intention of learning from it.

I don't even understand the point of this article. Are we supposed to sympathize with Kerr? Yeah... no. Are we to look at this case as evidence of liberal bias in ed schools? Sorry, but despite her apparent determination to be as confrontational as possible while simulaneously absorbing the minimal amount of knowledge from the program, she was still awarded her degree.

Is it really newsworthy that some recent grad with a big chip on her shoulder and a persecution complex feels she wasn't treated as well as she deserved?

Posted by: russopil9 | July 27, 2009 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Wait, isn't one of the more important features of TFA, KIPP, NLNS, Achievement First, Green Dot, Rhee, etc. (obviously, the opposite side of the education debate as STEP) that they rigorously screen applicants on the front end for ideological coherence? And when they find a poor match, they'll kick out/counsel out/fire people whose philosophies don't align. Why is it great when they do this, but bad when Stanford does?

Posted by: lskdjflksjdf | July 27, 2009 4:28 PM | Report abuse

As Ed14 already noted, Ms. Kerr took down the video that she had posted of the student. What he may not have noticed is that her post #2703 describing that student has been edited. In the original post, she revealed his grade letter average when she started teaching the class, as well as the grades he earned on the two subsequent tests. She has now removed the grade information. Why on earth would she think it appropriate to post it in the first place, with a video which clearly identifies him to anyone who knows him, in a public forum which anyone can read?

Posted by: Susannah2 | July 27, 2009 7:03 PM | Report abuse

Yes. She removed both the video and changed her comments following the video -- specifically, she took out her statement about what grade the student in question received in her class.

The fact that she had originally posted grade information is particularly troubling in light of the following passage taken directly from Kerr's Surviving Stanford blog, where Kerr justifies and defends the content that she was posting online:

"I knew that FERPA referred to a school’s responsibilities, not teachers, but I still felt that a teacher might be violating FERPA by mentioning an individual’s grade issue by the teacher him or herself."

Here, Kerr indicates that she was aware that posting grade information violated rules of confidentiality -- yet she did it herself (and even identified that student with a video) on a public discussion forum that appears to receive significant traffic. Moreover, if it were not for the challenges she has received in these comments, that information would still be online.

It's obvious that Stanford had something to be concerned about when it came to her judgment vis-a-vis her blogging. This is but one example -- we don't know what was on the blog when Stanford originally caught wind of it; all we have is Kerr's word on the matter and she has shown that she has no compunction about editing and deleting any of her material that might come under attack.

Posted by: member8 | July 27, 2009 10:53 PM | Report abuse

If Stanford is SO VERY CONCERNED about a student's information being disseminated in violation of FERPA regulations, how come they can specifically identify Miss Kerr as being "unsuitable" to a potential employer? Has Miss Kerr's rights to privacy been violated?

Posted by: bluestateblue | July 28, 2009 11:21 AM | Report abuse

Why would you take Kerr's word that Stanford personnel gave a poor reference to a potential employer? She's already demonstrated poor judgment and a distorted view of events.

Posted by: potine41 | July 28, 2009 11:49 AM | Report abuse

I'm confused. Where in the article does it indicate that Stanford notified an employer or potential employer that she was "unsuitable"? Stanford notified the high school where she was placed for student teaching (through the Stanford STEP program) that she was writing a public blog that discussed students and identified the high school by its actual name. It's incredibly important to keep a good relationshiip between high schools willing to host student teachers and higher ed teaching institutions -- Stanford needs those high schools' participation in order to educate their students -- and it makes perfect sense that Stanford would want to notify the school of this breach of confidentiality.

The article states she currently has a teaching position, so I'm not sure where your comment that Stanford notified a potential employer that she was "unsuitable" for teaching is taken from. As far as I can tell, the only one they used that phrase with was Kerr herself.

Posted by: Ed14 | July 28, 2009 12:11 PM | Report abuse

This is from Sarah Press, who tried and failed to post on her own:
For me, the crux of the issue in Kerr's case is that Stanford has considerable jurisdiction over which of its students it deems competent to credential. This means, as others have remarked, that STEP has a lot of power, but it also means that STEP carries a lot of responsibility. By granting Kerr a credential, STEP is effectively endorsing her as a competent and professional educator, as well as a representative of the STEP program.

If I were a STEP administrator, which, thankfully, I am not, I would have had serious reservations about signing off on her credential, regardless of her ideology, based on her all-around terrible professional judgment, inability to ever see beyond her own convictions, and, perhaps most disturbing of all, her utter lack of any desire to expand her knowledge or consider alternate possibilities. Of all the scary, or repugnant, or inappropriate, things Kerr has written, this, to me, is the worst (excerpted from a STEP assignment, full text available here

"My view of the world is, dare I say, Descartian. I begin with my own thoughts and senses and build out from there. I read to acquire facts or to acquire other opinions or beliefs that I compare to my own...

...Education is merely a new set of inputs to be compared against my existing opinions and beliefs. Overall, I’ve never been a very successful student, precisely because I am never “learning”, but evaluating. I’m the expert. The subject has to prove itself to me.

...So. To try and put this together, here’s what I have learned about myself and about learning in this exercise. What most people consider learning environments (say, going to grad school in education or MIS), I consider just new inputs for me to think about. I simply don’t consider that “learning”. It’s just new information that goes into the big library in my head. Whatever anyone says about this information is just their opinion; I don’t consider them experts just because they are previously aware of the information. This is why I am always flummoxed when asked in class to describe what I’ve “learned”. I have read the information and tested it against my own opinions and answered either in agreement or disagreement. I‘ve learned nothing--in many cases, not even new facts. (Arrogant, much? Oh, well.) As far as I’m concerned, I learned nothing new in college or either grad school experience. I formed new opinions, discovered new ideas that I considered and accepted or rejected, but I learned nothing."

I am highly suspicious of someone who is megalomaniacal enough to think that she has nothing to learn, only ideas to reject. To me, few things could position one further from "suitability for teaching," or for being an intellectual role model for teenagers. Regardless of ideological leanings, total unwillingness to critically consider a paradigm or even simple belief that you don't already hold is pretty antithetical to education. And that's where I think she's really in the wrong.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | July 28, 2009 2:13 PM | Report abuse

Some interesting Posts here. The charter schools mentioned do not try to discover if their teacher hires have "ideological coherence." They try to discover if they have good classroom instincts particularly with low-income students and are not going to blame the kids's parents for their failings. I apologize if the column did not make clear that Lotan's statement that Kerr might not be suitable for teaching was addressed to Kerr, as the beginning of a formal process that could have denied her a credential. STEP did not give the high school principal a bad reference, it simply copied the principal on a message to Kerr stating their concerns about her blogging. If the principal had been enthusiastic about having bloggers on her faculty, it would have been a positive reference. But the principal told Kerr she wasn't thrilled about it. As I said, I asked Stanford to tell me if there were any factual errors. I know the problem with FERPA, which is why I quoted Stanford on that issue. If I had found that Kerr had told me anything that turned out not to be true, I would have also revealed that to the reader. But all of her statements that I could check out that I used in the piece turned out to be true. In many cases, like this one, a journalist has all the relevant facts that can be supplied in a limited amount of space, and must then present them to readers, hoping that they are intelligent enough to judge for themselves what's what. That seems to me to have proved true in this case, and I am grateful for the thoughtfulness shown by the posters above, even though I have a real problem with judging teachers by what they say outside of class, rather than how effective they are with students in class. If we go in that direction, we are going to have to be checking the blogs and outside comments of a lot of other teachers, and I don't think that is the way to go. Nor, last time I looked, is it constitutional.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | July 28, 2009 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Jay, I'm not sure that I agree with you about whether the "no excuses" schools and organizations consider the ideologies of their new hires. I certainly didn't mean to suggest that KIPP et al hire based on what people are blogging on their own time (and to the extent that Stanford acted based solely on Kerr's blogging, this comment doesn't apply,) but these organizations certainly have a philosophy of instruction in mind and screen for that type of thing in first round interview. I'm not convinced that checking for "classroom instincts" is all benign and non-ideological. I'm speaking from personal experience, though, not a survey of these organizations.

It's also not clear that TFA hasn't done the same thing as Stanford; I've certainly heard stories about people being kicked out of TFA for badmouthing their program or philosophy. (I haven't verified that myself, though.) In any case there's no way to judge the individual circumstances of a dismissal and TFA doing that wouldn't justify Stanford doing it. But the idea that this is education schools persecuting righteous reformers (brought up by some commenters) does seem a bit off to me.

Posted by: lskdjflksjdf | July 28, 2009 9:32 PM | Report abuse

Jay, you say "even though I have a real problem with judging teachers by what they say outside of class, rather than how effective they are with students in class."

So if a teacher is a person who believes that African Americans are naturally less intelligent than whites--as Kerr has asserted numerous times--you have no problem having her teach nonwhite children?

As for "a journalist has all the relevant facts that can be supplied in a limited amount of space," you could have Googled "Cal Lanier" and found her own forum quite easily, where her racist, sexist views can be found quite easily, or could until she started redacting her opinions.

Admit it: you were taken in by her and didn't do your homework. You presented a one-sided view of her case. Stanford cannot tell you the truth for privacy/legal reasons. Yet you insist that because Stanford did not contradict Kerr's story, it must be true.

Posted by: cindy6789 | July 29, 2009 9:26 AM | Report abuse

For cindy6789: I never said in that column her story must be true. I presented all the evidence I could get on both sides and left that to readers to decide, but expressed my own opinion that the STEP actions against her, which the STEP people themselves acknowledged to others, were ill-considered, wrong-headed and not in the best interests of an effort to train the teachers. As for the racism charge, I have seen the Kerr posts that some who have written me said are racist, and I don't see the racism there. I have asked that those who have this view of Kerr cite specific language that they feel proves her to be a racist, so we can discuss that. Just sending out a blog link and tell us to go look at the racist language doesn't get us very far. I and others have been discussing affirmative action with Kerr on my Admissions 101 discussions group for a long time. I disagree with her view, but I don't think either you or I would label all opponents of affirmative action as racist. So show me some Kerr quotes that you think make her racist,and we can move that part of this discussion forward.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | July 29, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse

FYI to all: Adam Kissel, whose FIRE organization challenged Stanford on its actions toward Kerr, just told me that they sent to Stanford a FERPA waiver, signed by Kerr, that would have allowed Stanford to comment on her case. This is the response he got from the Stanford lawyer to his request that they respond specifically to the complaints that Kerr made about the way she was treated:
"In spite of the FERPA waiver you have provided, Stanford is not inclined to engage in a debate concerning these matters in regard to the School of Education's interactions with an incoming student. We do not believe that it would be particularly productive to do so."

Posted by: Jay Mathews | July 29, 2009 12:51 PM | Report abuse

This was quoted upthread:

CalGal -- Thursday, October 26, 2006 -- 02:51:45 AM -- 2648 of 3990

[ ... ]

Filipino nurses are maybe a curbside higher than a Mexican day laborer. A little bit more education and at least they're legal. But that's about it.

I would link to it but she's either deleted or hidden it. Do you think that's a racist statement? You don't need to address whether you think she actually said that or not, just the content of the statement itself. If you would, please.

Posted by: maria24 | July 29, 2009 12:51 PM | Report abuse

Jay, do you think it's racist to state that African Americans are the least intelligent group of Americans? Because Kerr has, many times.

Posted by: cindy6789 | July 29, 2009 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Jay, please give your views on the fact that Kerr posted a video identifying a student and revealed his grades in a public forum. I'm assuming that he didn't sign a FERPA waiver.

Posted by: Susannah2 | July 29, 2009 1:27 PM | Report abuse

This particular case of abuse at education dept. is writ large over the entire modern university. Kerr's troubles would have dogged her at any institution because the attitudes are endemic to higher learning. Under the pretext of "protecting" their sacred charges the instructors are programmed to destroy any threat to their own power base. There's nothing so nauseating as hearing the typical tenured dunce invoking "my kids" as the last refuge of his own pious self-justification on any issue. Kerr's age, as someone points out, is a key factor here. Mature students, as they're called, having had a taste of the real world, are less prone to accept the dogma's of academe at face value. Moreover, they're often better read than the typically lazy professors who presume to teach them, whatever the particular discipline. And they are nobody's "kids!" Their one fatal flaw is naivete, a trust in the professionalism of those above them, a trust all too often, as here, betrayed. As for Kerr herself, I question her bona fides as someone "fatally truthful" after seeing her laud all these second raters, especially the "ruthless political animal" whom she now respects so highly. Yeah, right!

Posted by: orthotox | July 29, 2009 8:48 PM | Report abuse

Cindyi6789: A case can be made that blacks are (one if ) the least INTELLECTUAL groups in the United States. I blame it on the subculture , the "Black Red Neck culture ," that makes black males have so little respect for academic achievement.

Posted by: RobbyS | July 30, 2009 2:50 AM | Report abuse

To Mr. Matthews.

Thanks for sticking up for a rebel who disagrees with you.

Posted by: RobbyS | July 30, 2009 2:57 AM | Report abuse

This makes me sad. I went through STEP in 1966 when it was n ew and very inspiring. So, I get their magazine and they are still running programs to help; out a very small black community in East Palo Alto. If they really knew anything, all those problems would have been long solved.
It sounds like her tormentors were grad students who were learning, too.

Posted by: clairesolt | July 30, 2009 4:45 AM | Report abuse

Thanks to Cindy6789 for finally coming up with a real quote that we can discuss. I don't like Kerr's tone, and I never would have said what she said, but it does not quite cross the line into racism, the sort of blatant bias you see on all kinds of comment strings after the Skip Gates incident, because she blames it on culture, not race, and even the president does that in his speeches about black fathers not supporting their kids.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | July 30, 2009 3:05 PM | Report abuse

"even though I have a real problem with judging teachers by what they say outside of class, rather than how effective they are with students in class"

I'm surprised to hear you say that. More and more employers and potential employers are looking at performance outside the workplace to determine how that person might perform inside it. Teachers in particular, as role models (and whether they aspire to that title or not, they are role models to children), are held to a higher standard.

I shudder to think that my daughter would be in a classroom with a woman who considers young women "twitches", and who fervently believes that adoptive parents are not "real" parents. I believe the adoption thread is among those that have "disappeared", so unfortunately I can't link to those statements, but many familiar with CalGal can attest to them.

Posted by: bbbouclay7 | July 30, 2009 11:56 PM | Report abuse

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