Occam’s ruler vs. his razor

I didn’t feel seen until the eleventh grade. I’d just written an essay that was an average grade eleven student’s 80%. I’d learned in the later parts of junior high that it was far easier to just make sure to bring in every piece of homework so that I didn’t have to get 100% of 70% of the classwork to get an average of 75%. Instead, I did every piece of homework for an intentional 75% which was the sweet spot between paying the least amount of attention in class to a grade no one can bother me about “not applying myself.”

When my teacher put the essay on my desk, I was shocked to see it was only 60% but she gave me a look that was…weird. The last time a teacher gave me a smug look and put down a 60% on my desk, I took it back up to his desk a moment later and told him very loudly he’d added up the totals wrong.

It was a math test.

This wasn’t that look. She was taking her chances. I’d thrown a desk at a teacher once. But for all the harassment my friend and I got from her, she was just lucky I chose not to throw it on her. It was childish, but I was eleven at the time. I’d stormed out of class and yelled at teachers for treating me unfairly. From a very young age, I understood the difference between what was unfair and what was I didn’t get my way. It had given me a honed injustice barometer.

She hadn’t treated me unfairly, she’d treated me strangely. There was a difference. So I waited until everyone was gone and went up to her. I told her point-blank that this was an 80% student paper. This weird, wonderful teacher looked me up and down and said, “For other students. For you, it’s a 60% paper.”

And…I mean…yeah. That was exactly what I thought about it too, to be fair. So I decided I was going to apply myself a little more. Grade 11 was certainly more interesting than junior high, which felt like being consumed by the sarlacc pit. Only it spat you out in the afternoon and you had to jump right back into it the next morning if it hadn’t been long enough between the last time you just needed a mental health day away from the bullshit and the boring.

Classwork started to be less what do you remember and more okay, and what do you think that means? All my grades took a steep climb into the 90s. All except math class. I was still making stupid mistakes. But our teacher had a weird policy where you could only take out a book and read in the second half of the testing period. The rest of the time you have to sit there and do nothing.

Which, not good for my brain. I was so bored, I actually read the instructions. In clear English, it said be sure to check your work.

I know it wasn’t the first time I’d seen it on the test, but it was the first time I realized that…if you checked your work, you would know it was right before the teacher did. It felt like cheating. No part of my education to that point was here are the tools to check to see if you’re right first *before* someone has to tell you that you are or aren’t?!? Check your work was just a sentence you let your eyes glaze past as you hope you remembered a pencil with an eraser that did more than smear the graphite around.

Occam’s Razor says the most likely thing is probably the most likely thing. But an Occam’s Ruler should be using the Razor to speak with authority about something that is unknown to the speaker but for what seems to be obvious.

Because yes, it is a more likely answer that a student is complaining about their program for other reasons than actual concern for real damage being done by learners they’ve witnessed. It’s also possible that a writer and teacher with years of experience saw learners who were learning that the foundational structures of fiction they needed to learn the most about was the one topic they’d never, ever consider they might have to learn. And they know they never, ever have to learn it because they were a UBC student.

Everything they wrote was loved to bits and only its prose was discussed. If foundational structures were important, the UBC program would have covered them, right?

But it’s really ignorant to assume that university policies are written to give the provost permission to just make up his judgement with his gut biome. And it’s unthinkable to think that this happened in a research university where ethics matter more than results. I can imagine the questions now:

Interviewer: (still struggling with the “logic” they’re asked to record) Sorry, can you repeat again why, exactly the student was denied an appeal?

Smug Officer: The University Act.

Interviewer: Yeah, but…you still had to listen to her complaint. She had the academic freedom to explain her concern with the program. You didn’t even let her put in a complaint about the lack of academic freedom because all you told her she had was… (stops to check notes)

Smug Officer: (thinking interviewer just doesn’t know instead of checking to make sure they get it absolutely right the first time) Freedom of Expression.

Interviewer: Right. That. Could you explain how you got from not tolerating violations of academic freedom to reducing it to freedom of expression?

Smug Officer: Because it’s not technically illegal to remove a student’s academic freedom! We told her this in writing but she kept going on and on about how we couldn’t do what we just did.

Interviewer: But you did it.

Smug Officer: Exactly.

(Interviewer rustles with more papers)

Interviewer: Now, on that note, could you explain how ignoring personal harassment isn’t (they go to make sarcastic air quotes and then remember they’re a professional) technically illegal either?

Smug Officer: (leans in conspiratorially) I’m glad you asked…

Fade to black

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s