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A Political Test for Teachers?

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Cultural competence?


"But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought."

More from Adam Kissel:

When a child doesn't finish his homework, who's at fault? The Race, Culture, Class and Gender Task Group in the University of Minnesota's teacher-education program wants every teacher blaming things like "white privilege, hegemonic masculinity, heteronormativity and internalized oppression." Those who don't, these professors believe, are unfit to be teachers.

These professors plainly want everybody to share their ideology. Fair enough. But they don't want to limit themselves to persuasion -- they want to use the university's power to demand that all teachers conform to their political litmus test.

Thus the task group's "final report" recommends ideological screening of applicants for admission to the school's teacher-ed program, with remedial re-education to "enlighten" anyone who is borderline.

They also don't want to let anybody become a teacher who cannot demonstrate sufficient "cultural competence." And that doesn't simply mean learning about cultural differences, but embracing specific views about how different cultures get along in America.

Did Johnny get a math problem wrong? Maybe it's because of society's "demands for assimilation to white, middle-class, Christian meanings and values."

Or maybe it's the school's fault. According to the task force, future teachers must "recognize that schools are socially constructed systems that are susceptible to racism . . . but are also critical sites for social and cultural transformation." In other words, they suspect traditional curricula of imposing racist values -- and want educators trained by the Minnesota program to instead teach their radical values.

The task group also wants teachers to blame themselves. This isn't about admitting that they need to get better at teaching their subjects. In one exercise, future teachers are to reveal a "pervasive stereotype" they once held about an identity group (such as immigrants or senior citizens) and argue in a personal essay that their stereotype has been "challenged" because of experiences with that group.

You see, the teachers need to rid themselves of their oppressive ideologies in order to teach math, grammar and science well.

The task group evidently wants to invade the thoughts, values, attitudes and beliefs of future teachers to make sure that they have the proper "dispositions" to be allowed to teach our youth. They recommend tests of "intercultural sensitivity" and "cultural intelligence." They also want to test each person regarding "the extent to which they find intrinsic satisfaction" in being in "culturally diverse situations."

"Cultural competence" can be a good thing if it means accounting for all the different influences that make each child unique. But it becomes downright Orwellian when it means making everyone agree to a specific, deeply political set of beliefs about how race, culture, class and gender play out in America.

The good news is that the professors in the task group are not going to get their way. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, where I work, wrote the university's president a detailed letter last month. We pointed out that this proposal is the opposite of a liberal education in a free society because it would teach that the authorities get to decide which views are right and wrong.

As New Yorker and Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson wrote for the court during World War II, "Freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom . . . If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein."

After we exposed the university's plans to the public, the university's general counsel finally promised us that the university will never "mandate any particular beliefs, or screen out people with 'wrong beliefs' from the University." Let's hold the University of Minnesota to that truly liberal promise.

Adam Kissel is director of the Individual Rights Defense Program at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (thefire.org).

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