Saturday, January 28, 2017

Revisionism Run Amok

I have written ten previous posts about Chris Spence. the disgraced former Director of the Toronto District School Board, whose fall from professional grace was caused by his serial plagiarism. I hope readers will indulge me for my eleventh post, this one in response to a risible attempt at resurrecting his career.

When I taught, plagiarism was considered the worst academic crime one could commit. It still is. But according to Spence apologist Bruce Davis, former Chair of the Toronto District School Board and a trustee from 2000-2010, it is really much ado about nothing, and that the recent revocation of Spence's teaching certificate was an egregious injustice that must be rectified.

Davis writes:
I was gob-smacked last week when I learned of the Ontario College of Teachers’ decision to revoke Chris Spence’s teaching qualifications. Dumbfounded. Confused. Irritated. Angry.

I thought I was witnessing a professional lynching.
After launching into a protracted encomium that suggests Spence is a living saint, Davis makes this remarkable and quite inaccurate assertion:
Spence paid dearly for his acts of plagiarism first revealed by the Toronto Star, resulting in the loss of his professional stature, his salary, and his reputation in the community. But he took responsibility and owned up to his mistakes.
He neglects to add that Spence's 'owing up' took place only after he was caught, and in a desperate bid to salvage his job. But that matters not to Davis:
In the context of Spence’s clear remorse for his acts, I saw an opportunity for Spence to talk to kids about academic ethics, about putting in the hard work and not taking short-cuts, and about taking responsibility when you mess-up. I believe Spence’s fall from grace remains a teachable moment.
In a clever bit of misdirection, Davis looks at sanctions meted out to others who have run afoul of professional ethics, and suggests that Spence's punishment is disproportionate; Spece's personal apologist is apparently either oblivious to, or willfully ignorant of, the grave nature of the former educator's misdeeds. And he offers two very suspect conclusions:
In my view, to a reasonable person taking away Spence’s certification to teach is not proportional to the magnitude of his mistakes. On the contrary – it is patently unfair and heavy-handed.

I stand by Chris Spence. If the opportunity had been presented, I would have advocated on his behalf at his discipline hearing. I would have told the panel without equivocation or doubt: this man should still be teaching children and leading teachers.
This article was all too much for me, so I penned a letter of rebuttal to the Toronto Star, which I hope they print:

I must take strong issue with Bruce Davis's stout defence of Chris Spence, the disgraced former Director of Education for the Toronto District School Board. It would seem that his friendship with Spence has led him to minimize the gravity of the latter's misdeeds.

By all accounts a serial plagiarist whose ignoble acts go back at least as far as his PhD thesis, Spence has shown a consistent disregard for academic honesty, the sine qua non for all educators. The fact that his teaching licence has been revoked is simple justice, neither “patently unfair and heavy-handed,” nor a ”professional lynching” as described by Davis.

During my career as a high school teacher, there could be no greater betrayal than a student's theft of another's ideas or words. To have that same academic crime committed by someone purporting to be an educational leader and exemplar compounds the betrayal; by showing flagrant, egregious and repeated contempt for the staff, students and parents he was supposedly leading, Spence did not make 'mistakes' but rather revealed himself to be one who felt the rules were made for others, not him, to follow, and thus did grievous harm not only to public morale but also to the students under his leadership.

If that doesn't warrant the revocation of a teaching certificate, what does?


  1. A lot of that is going around these days, Lorne. Melania steals Michelle's speech. Now she's the First Lady.

    1. Indeed, as Hamlet would say, Owen, "The time is out of joint."

  2. I think Lorne one of the greatest gifts one person can give to another is knowledge. To claim that knowledge as your own through plagiarism is a betrayal and contempt for the person who, sometimes through lengthy and rigorous thinking independently made that knowledge possible.The plagiarist also reveals a contempt for knowledge itself. Knowledge is not a value to him. It is just a useful tool that he can use to satisfy his present need of pretending to be the bearer of knowledge that he has stolen from someone else and claimed as his own.

    This is a really important subject and goes to the actual nature of knowledge.From great thinkers like Aristotle who identified whole systems of knowledge and even taught the fundamental axioms that knowledge is based on, to those who learned and applied his knowledge to the various sciences and political subjects being studied.

    Much of the knowledge I have learned is from people who have the capacity to originate thought leading to knowledge.I myself do not have that capability. I am however very grateful to those original thinkers.

    The greatest resource that humankind has is the human mind and its capacity to know.Without the human mind, humans would be extinct.Implicit in Darwins discovery of evolution regarding the origin of the species is the evolutionary nature of the origin of the human mind.

    Ideas and knowledge are instrumental in building civilizations. When ideas and knowledge are know longer pursued then civilizations fall. That is how important the pursuit and acquisition of knowledge it.

    It is not an accident that the American culture is now defined by scripture, not by ideas.The anti-intellectualism and anti-knowledge process is the source of the American culture and political decline.

    The study of the nature of thinking is what epistemology teaches
    including the accquisition of knowledge.Your Plagiarist Chris Spence is just a cut and paste thinker. The effort of real thinking is something he doesn't chose to do. He leaves that to others then claims the result of their thinking, knowledge, as his own.

    I would gladly indulge your posting on this subject anytime.It is a subject that greatly interests me. Calling this mans plagiarism an "academic crime" is absolutely spot on!

    1. Thank you, Pamela. Your thoughts are very much appreciated, as always. Your assessment of the nature of true knowledge would shame people like Spence, had he the capacity to appreciate your insights.

  3. What troubles me most about Chris Spence is the measures he took, and continues to take in the name of self-glorification. I consider this behaviour a growing pandemic. Chris is not alone in the quest for superiority fueled by narcissism. You can also taste it in the language used to defend Spence by Bruce Davis, “I believe Spence’s fall from ‘grace’.”
    Grace? Really? Move over Dalai Lama.

    Dishonest people do not fall from grace. They get caught and are forced to rise out of the gutter. Spence didn’t fall from anything other than his own hubris. I couldn’t agree with you more, Lorne; he got caught and only then did he fess up to his acts of dishonesty. Revoking his teaching license is the absolute least that could have been done to a man who blatantly chose to ignore the foundations of ethical behaviour in the profession he supposedly represented.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Domenic. Your observation that dishonest people do not fall from grace is an incisive and apt dismissal of the kind of revisionism people like Davis are trying to promote.