« Letter from Lake Wobegon U | Main | A Letter to the President of Lake Wobegon University »

How others see us... Disposition Assessment and TERI at Minnesota

"Who but an idiot would apply to this school?"

From University Diaries, the blog of George Washington University English professor, one of the country's foremost academic bloggers:

Designed with Sheep in Mind.

Dispositions assessment for new candidates approved (includes consultation with UMN general council) [sic]

This excerpt from a University of Minnesota school of education task force draft says it all.

The professor who wrote it doesn't know how to spell counsel. The same professor looks forward to subjecting applicants to the school to an assessment of their cultural competence - cultural competence here being what the task force tells applicants it is.

Applicants who don't want their social views investigated and approved by admissions officers might save themselves money and anxiety as to the correctness of their views by not applying.

Applicants who read the criteria by which they will be considered culturally competent, and who alter themselves to conform to the school's standards of cultural competence should feel encouraged to apply. This group should understand, however, that even if admissions officers find their degree of competence acceptable at this time, applicants will continue to be scrutinized closely on the matter throughout their years at the school.

The reason the task force thinks it might want to check in with the general council is that someone in the group has an inkling that political litmus tests might be considered unconstitutional.

But constitutional questions are the least of it. Who but an idiot would apply to this school?

So sheep may safely graze...


Note added November 30:

An interesting section of the original post is a growing number of comments that may be of interest to the TERI folks at CEHD. One of the best, I think, is from Soltan herself:

# Margaret Soltan Says: November 28th, 2009 at 7:37PM

Okay. The problem that proponents of admissions assessment in terms of dispositions, and then courses of study and other forms of training in terms of cultural competence, want to address seems to be the following:

Education cannot be a means of social and economic advancement for underprivileged people if the people teaching the underprivileged are insufficiently aware of the specific nature of their students' lack of privilege. How can schools of education best educate future teachers on the specificities of underprivilege?

Central to the answer offered by many schools of education is something like the following:

Students in schools of education must be made aware of their own privilege. They must undergo interviews and exercises which will reveal to the students their insufficient awareness of the ways in which privileges with which they were born have enabled their personal and professional successes... Successes that these students perhaps have considered primarily self-generated.

I am not disputing the importance of a sensitive and rich understanding of how various forms of deprivation make it much more difficult for various populations to be successful. I am taking issue with the particular method some schools of education who embrace disposition and cultural competence mandates take up to achieve this understanding.

This model assumes a significant enough degree of privilege in all people admitted to schools of education to warrant an intimate, revealing, ongoing procedure in which you publicly grapple with your political unconscious. Since many students admitted to schools of education will be from not particularly privileged backgrounds, and since some will be from decidedly not privileged backgrounds (I'm going to assume, Sara, that you don't believe all white people, by virtue of their skin, are privileged), this seems to me a sledgehammer of an approach, more likely to alienate and offend people than to enlighten them as to their insufficiently understood social attitudes.

More problematically, the model is a very particular, well-elaborated program of dispositional and cultural reform. It deploys a certain theory about the complex connections among social justice, personal interaction, and the transmission of knowledge with which reasonable people can disagree. Reasonable people can also take issue with the belief that you can enlighten and change people by challenging them to reveal their personal feelings about things in public settings. This belief rests on a prior belief in a group psychology / confessional model of personal change which, again, is controversial in terms of its conception and its results.

I think there are better -- more seemly, probably more effective -- ways to encourage greater degrees of awareness among students in schools of education about the classroom effects of economic and cultural disparities in this country. These ways would involve, broadly speaking, having the students spend much less time thinking about themselves, and much more time thinking about the world of their future students. A course which involved a close reading and discussion of books like A Theory of Justice by John Rawls and The End of Equality by Mickey Kaus, for instance, would probably be much more effective than disposition workshops. (I'm aware that some schools of ed offer such courses.)

A rigorous education in theories of justice, the history of discrimination in America, and the particularities (Jonathan Kozol, etc.) of schooling and inequality, coupled with plenty of apprenticeships in classrooms throughout one's years in ed school, seems to me one good way of educating future teachers in the politics of the classroom.

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)