Wednesday, December 2, 2009

University of Minnesota Takes Heat for Proposal to Gauge Future Teachers' Sensitivity

From the Chronicle of Higher Education:

The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities has come under pressure to reject a faculty panel's proposal to require students in its education school to doubt the United States is a meritocracy and to demonstrate an understanding of concepts such as "white privilege."

Conservative pundits and a prominent free-speech advocacy group have attacked the education-school panel, called the Race, Culture, Class, and Gender Task Group, which has said future teachers should "understand the importance of cultural identity" and "be able to discuss their own histories and current thinking drawing on notions of white privilege, hegemonic masculinity, heteronormativity, and internalized oppression." The panel also has said prospective teachers should promote social justice and have an understanding of U.S. history that takes into account the "myth of meritocracy in the United States."

Jean K. Quam, dean of the university's College of Education and Human Development, said today in an interview that the proposal was just one of several being offered up by various faculty panels as the college moves to overhaul its teacher-education program to better prepare students to deal with today's classrooms. She characterized the proposal as "a brainstorm of ideas" that the education school had yet to act upon as it develops a sweeping plan to change teacher preparation in the coming academic year.

"We would never impose requirements of how people are required to think or act as part of their teacher education," Ms. Quam said. "We are trying to broaden the way that they think or act and not narrow that view."

An 'Affront to Liberty'

But in a recent letter to the university's president, Robert H. Bruininks, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education argued that the education school had signaled its intent to adopt the proposal in a recent application for grant money and was already advising applicants that such changes may be under way.

The letter from Adam Kissel, director of the group's Individual Rights Defense Program, called the proposed requirements for prospective teachers "unconstitutional and morally unconscionable" and "a severe affront to liberty."

Ms. Quam said the education-school panel had come back with "some pretty strong language about what it wanted to see." She added, however, that she supported its underlying goal of preparing prospective teachers to deal with students from diverse backgrounds, and noted that about 70 languages and dialects are spoken by students in the Saint Paul school system alone.

The controversy over the Minnesota proposal echoes a recent debate over whether it is appropriate for colleges of education to require prospective teachers to display certain professional "dispositions" showing an ability to work with diverse students — a requirement that schools view as ensuring teachers are effective, and critics regard as thinly disguised ideological litmus tests. In response to such criticisms, the governing board of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education voted in 2007 to stop suggesting that teacher-preparation programs take their students' views on "social justice" into account.

Some comments from the Chronicle Website:

When the phrase, ". . .be able to discuss their own histories and current thinking drawing on notions of white privilege, hegemonic masculinity, heteronormativity, and internalized oppression." we should all be thankful for the opposition to this type of propaganda.

"be able to discuss their own histories and current thinking drawing on notions of white privilege, hegemonic masculinity, heteronormativity, and internalized oppression." Oh, what the Underground Gammarian would have done with this! But for now, I'm imagining the good people down at Lake Woebegone's Sidetrack Tap trying confront the twin demons of hegmonic masculinity and heteronormativity.

Maybe we should back up and challenge the concept of schools of education. What a waste of taxpayer money this is. It is sad we pay people to sit around endlessly discussing sexism, racism, heterosexism while America's students get horrible education. Yes, we should have some diversity discussions when training teachers, but this is outrageous.

It is impossible to take seriously Dean Quam's comment that "We would never impose requirements of how people are required to think or act as part of their teacher education," when the previous paragraph makes it crystal clear that this is PRECISELY the intent of the panel's proposal. Being able to articulate one's views is not the same as a requirement that one's views follow a determined philosophical or political path.

With all due respect to Dean Quam, the fact that any panel of faculty in her college would come up with this kind of nonsense indicates she has problems reaching far beyond the inept stereotyping it represents. ... It may be that those of a more conservative persuasion are the most inflamed by the behavior of the faculty panel that produced this proposal, but let me assure you, there are many of us of the more liberal persuasion who are also incensed by the narrow minded bigotry that has been demonstrated by this particular panel.

I must partially agree with "sullivab" (7) and his invocation of Godwin's Law -- this proposal at U Minn's College of Education is certainly not Nazi. Stalinist possibly -- it does sound like something that might have been promulgated in the Little Red Schoolhouse. It seems to come out of the "Cultural Competence" Movement -- a misnomer to hoot at. What they really mean is MULTI- cultural Competence. Like most educationists they have trouble saying what they really mean, often because they don't know what they really mean. And their notion of competence is pretty shallow.

There's a difference between teaching students how to think and teaching students what to think. Well-intentioned proposals like this one confuse the two. Students need to be taught critical thinking so that they can more intelligently understand the world, including the country, state, city, neighborhoods they live in. The proposal would short-circuit the process, simply leading them straight to the conclusions the planners consider to be indisputably desirable. Students who have not been taught how to read and write and do arithmetic may or may not be capable of critical thinking, but I don't see how it would matter a lot. And I don't think anyone who truly believes in spoonfeeding kids any ideology is demonstrating much facility with critical thinking themselves.

"'We would never impose requirements of how people are required to think or act as part of their teacher education,' Ms. Quam said.
Oh, Really!? FIRE does great work....keep it up."

The bruhaha, for those of us who have been following this issue, has not been the call for multicultural sensitivity (however defined). The issue has been the committee's calls for sanctions against prospective teachers that do not espouse sufficent sensitivity. The irony lies in the fact of a committee on diversity permiting no diversity of opinion among prospective teachers and a committee on sensitivity being radically insensitive to differing points of view. The document sounds draconian and totalitarian -- hardly the liberal principles it purports to defend.

Sounds like an attempt to make certain that American teachers are drawn from the bottom 10% of the class.

So, if we think about what UMN is considering here, then perhaps we could agree that telling these future teachers what to think is inappropriate. However, asking them to think about who their students will be, the challenges they might face, and the individualized approaches that all students need to fulfill their potential requires just the type of critical thinking we should promote. Tell them what to think? No. Ask them to consider their role in the education of a diverse population and finding their own ways to be effective in their practice? Yes.

[I'm sure there will be more before this thread is over - I'll add as appropriate. I've not had any response to my invitation to the #TERI proponents to comment on this. Unfortunately, some appear to be Molotov cocktail throwers or would be cyber-blackmailers.

wbgleason Attention you folks pushing #TERI If you are really interested in a discussion rather than name calling go here and comment o/o ]

Commenting is now closed on the Chronicle site. Some of the last comments:

A rant from Matthew:

39. matthewcw - December 04, 2009 at 05:38 pm

What is rather shocking to be completely absent from ALL of this is anyone asking...who is this FIRE organization?

[ The mission of FIRE is to defend and sustain individual rights at America's colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience — the essential qualities of individual liberty and dignity. FIRE's core mission is to protect the unprotected and to educate the public and communities of concerned Americans about the threats to these rights on our campuses and about the means to preserve them. - ]

We might start by looking at where their money comes from in order to try to understand just how "non-partisan" they really are and WHY they might be attemping to manufacture this "controversy:"

Now, just because they get money from some pretty high profile, well heeled conservative groups does not mean, in of itself, that their arguments are flawed. But, it might give us some insight into just what they mean by protecting "free speech" and how they use the cloak of "non-partisan" as an attempt to exist beyond reproach (a rather sly rhetorical move). After all, it is always those who claim no agenda at all that can be counted on to be the most dishonest.

But let's be honest with ourselves here...this group is not the second coming of the ACLU. They're not falling over themselves to protect LGBT rights on campuses (and actually have a history of doing just the opposite).

[This guy teaches writing? One of his favorite rhetorical stunts - if you don't agree with him, you're dishonest?]

But their rhetorical dishonesty aside, what is really shameful is how so many "academics" failed to do exactly what we expect many of our own students to do: check your sources first. How many people, once seeing "free speech advocacy" just assumed that whatever they have to say must be true? Seems like an awful lot. Further, the distinction between a primary source and a secondary source is utterly lost in nearly all of these discussions. In fact, this article ITSELF uses a secondary source AS its primary source, a move which I might suggest reveals quite a lot about the intent here. You'll note there are no links to the actual documents from the initiative itself.

Response by author of article:

41. pschmidt - December 04, 2009 at 09:08 pm

Poster number 39, mathewcw, has asked for links to the primary documents (which this article did, indeed, rely upon).

They can be found on a University of Minnesota blog at the following URL:

The central document that this controversy focuses on can be called up by clicking the hot link for the report by the task force on race, class, culture, and gender, on the left half of your screen.

--Peter Schmidt

Matthew - simply put - I think you should be ashamed of yourself.

This stunt and your earlier tweets are very disappointing.

But it is a free country, so far anyway, and you are free to write what you wish - even an opinion that the moon is made of green cheese. This does not, however, mean that you are immune from strong criticism. You are not entitled to throw Molotov cocktails and then whine harassment when you are called on some of your nonsense. This also applies to your stalking horse and fellow traveler, Gameboy.

I hope anyone following this thread will comment if they wish. This offer includes you and Gameboy. Practice what you teach. Short of pornography or vulgarity - comments will not be edited in any way.


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