Wednesday, June 07, 2006

NCATE Folds on Social Justice

Inside Higher Ed reported June 6 that Arthur Wise, President of NCATE, ended the discussion on the role of social justice in teacher preparation by simply capitulating before the real debate could begin. A case of pure cowardice, neocon hardball politics, or a deadly mixture of both? To commemorate NCATE's shameful acceptance of the racist claim that the goal of social justice is a liberal ideology, I offer this bit of commentary from Schools Matter, 12.15.05:

Protecting the Rights of Racists to Become Teachers

The foundations classes that I teach begin with an introduction to the study of ethics, and one of the texts we use is the NEA Code of Ethics of the Teaching Profession. The Code has this Preamble that we read and discuss:
The educator, believing in the worth and dignity of each human being, recognizes the supreme importance of the pursuit of truth, devotion to excellence, and the nurture of the democratic principles. Essential to these goals is the protection of freedom to learn and to teach and the guarantee of equal educational opportunity for all. The educator accepts the responsibility to adhere to the highest ethical standards.

The educator recognizes the magnitude of the responsibility inherent in the teaching process. The desire for the respect and confidence of one's colleagues, of students, of parents, and of the members of the community provides the incentive to attain and maintain the highest possible degree of ethical conduct. The Code of Ethics of the Education Profession indicates the aspiration of all educators and provides standards by which to judge conduct.

The remedies specified by the NEA and/or its affiliates for the violation of any provision of this Code shall be exclusive and no such provision shall be enforceable in any form other than the one specifically designated by the NEA or its affiliates.

And then it has two Principles, the first one dealing with Commitment to the Student and the second aimed at Commitment to the Profession. Here is the first that become central in a number of hairy cases that constitute the core of the ethics part of the course:
Commitment to the Student
The educator strives to help each student realize his or her potential as a worthy and effective member of society. The educator therefore works to stimulate the spirit of inquiry, the acquisition of knowledge and understanding, and the thoughtful formulation of worthy goals.

In fulfillment of the obligation to the student, the educator--

1. Shall not unreasonably restrain the student from independent action in the pursuit of learning.
2. Shall not unreasonably deny the student's access to varying points of view.
3. Shall not deliberately suppress or distort subject matter relevant to the student's progress.
4. Shall make reasonable effort to protect the student from conditions harmful to learning or to health and safety.
5. Shall not intentionally expose the student to embarrassment or disparagement.
6. Shall not on the basis of race, color, creed, sex, national origin, marital status, political or religious beliefs, family, social or cultural background, or sexual orientation, unfairly--
a. Exclude any student from participation in any program
b. Deny benefits to any student
c. Grant any advantage to any student
7. Shall not use professional relationships with students for private advantage.
8. Shall not disclose information about students obtained in the course of professional service unless disclosure serves a compelling professional purpose or is required by law.

Why do I bother to print this part of the NEA Code here? Isn’t it enough that I provide this statement (that I try to live by) as the footing for the ethical foundation that prospective teachers build during my course? It would be enough, perhaps, and not worth posting if there were not now a committed group of right-wing crackpots on the loose who view these ethical values as unimportant for evaluating the readiness of prospective teachers. Yes, these are the same crackpots, now supported by Federal education policy, who would prefer to dismantle, or blow up, teacher education programs entirely.

For those still wondering what I am talking about, there is now emerging (see Chronicle article here) a full-blown neo-con fatwah on education professional schools and the emphasis by these schools on dispositions (ethical values) to which teacher candidates are expected to adhere as they prepare to become teachers.

Particularly loathsome and oppressive to oppressed white protestants (who, we may recall, control both bodies of Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court) is the emphasis on values such as “social justice.” It is particularly galling, the tirade goes, to have the liberal university language police who now run schools of education to offer any reminder to teacher candidates that skin tone might carry with it some small social or economic implication, or that there are parts of our national past and present that are not so sunny in terms of the treatment of the darker folk.

In fact, these neo-con critics, in their perennial role as anti-cultural and uni-social nitwits, view the honest treatment of the factual past as a liberal plot to demoralize the white race. What is at stake, of course, is the possibility that teacher candidates actually become conscious of racial history, which might lead some of these, otherwise, color blind co-eds to acknowledge that there are, indeed, parts of their “heritage” that might dampen their unquestioning celebration of white pride. You know, the plantation was not just a place for sipping mint juleps—but, rather, the foundational institution for American economic power in the 19th Century.

As part of my permanent atonement for being a southerner, I watch Jerry Falwell on Sunday morning when I go back home on visits. Falwell is old hand in the school history wars, and recently I heard him share with the TV flock his outrage that school history texts discuss Jefferson’s ownership of slaves. Forever blind to any sense of irony, Falwell would rather see Jefferson remembered, not as a slaveholder, but for his commitment to individual rights, which would seem to include freedom of thought and expression and belief. Except in school, of course, where Falwell and the cons prefer the indoctrination of children in meaningless platitudes intended to blind future citizens to what has made them blind.

What has brought on the current war on “dispositions?” And what are these dispositions?:
In the 2002 edition of its guidebook on professional standards, the [NCATE (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education)] detailed the kind of learning it expects, including the kind of professional dispositions it believes students need. Dispositions, the booklet says, are the "values, commitments, and professional ethics that influence behaviors toward students, families, colleagues, and communities." They "are guided by beliefs and attitudes related to values such as caring, fairness, honesty, responsibility, and social justice."
Dangerous stuff. We know now that the current war on the dangerous value of social justice is part of the much broader intrusion into higher ed that hopes to establish ideological quotas to guarantee the untrammeled presence of the endangered, exploited, and oppressed white male protestant conservative patriotic-by-lapel-pin position in every nook and cranny of the university. If there were any doubt that this is a core unacknowledged reason for Maggie’s new Commission on High Ed, have a look at these remarks by Lamar Alexander, who was purportedly at the Nashville meeting of the Commission to talk about science and math education:
Alexander said funding for colleges is threatened by a "growing political one-sidedness" on many campuses that doesn't allow for more conservative ideas.

"How many conservative speakers are invited to deliver commencement addresses? How many colleges require courses in U.S. history? How many even teach Western Civilization? ... Those are politically unacceptable topics," the Tennessee Republican testified.

Alexander, a former U.S. Secretary of Education and former president of the University of Tennessee, said colleges need to bring in more speakers and academics "with a different point of view from the prevailing point of view.

"I know it's the single biggest criticism I hear of higher education, because I'm always the one saying 'Let's have more money for colleges and universities,' " Alexander said. "The biggest thing I get thrown back in my face is, 'They're politically one-sided. Why should I support them?'"

Is the battle against inclusive factual history and social justice dispositions having any effect? Sure enough—in a spineless acquiescence to the anti-political-correctness political correctors, NCATE has quickly folded up on the issue and issued an urgent bulletin. I wonder if this what the NCATE chiefs meant at the Washington meeting that I attended when they talked about plans for closer ties with the federal government?Again, from the Chronicle:
Last month, in the midst of the controversy, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education sent a bulletin to the 614 programs it accredits, saying that education schools should not evaluate students' attitudes, but rather assess their dispositions based on "observable behavior in the classroom." It also said it does "not expect or require institutions to attend to any particular political or social ideologies."

Beliefs, values, philosophy, or ethical commitments don’t matter any more unless we observe them after they are allowed to do damage in the classroom? If a teacher can teach math, it does not matter if she is an avowed skinhead, fascist, or a dangerous liberal? NCATE has, then, just attempted to acknowledge the meaninglessness of a foundational element of what this foundations prof has committed his professional life to. Sorry, NCATE, and I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but—go the Hell.

By the way, did you ever wonder how it happened in Germany? Perfect example—the whores running higher ed were some of the first to fold.

Jim Horn


Anonymous said...

It's probably not a surprise that I disagree with your judgment of Wise's statement. Oh, yes, it was certainly politically-motivated backpedaling. But I disagree with the argument that we either should or really can judge the hearts and minds of our students in colleges of education.

Beliefs, values, philosophy, or ethical commitments don’t matter any more unless we observe them after they are allowed to do damage in the classroom?

How someone articulates their reasoning in a ethics case study seems pretty observable. They write; I read. That doesn't mean I'm finding out what their attitudes are. It does mean I can tell if they know what their ethical obligations are and can apply them to a specific situation.

If a teacher can teach math, it does not matter if she is an avowed skinhead, fascist, or a dangerous liberal?

It used to be regular practice to kick teachers out if they didn't swear up and down that they had never belonged to the Communist Party. I'm not sure we want to head back there, no matter who you'd want to kick out of the classroom based on what ideology.

NCATE has, then, just attempted to acknowledge the meaninglessness of a foundational element of what this foundations prof has committed his professional life to.

This foundations prof has no problems not trying to guess what's inside the head of students. When asked, my students generally agree that telepathy would be a bad thing, and some mental privacy a good thing.

Incidentally, the NEA ethics code is reprinted almost word-for-word in the Florida code. It's largely duties-based. High-stakes testing policy, of course, is very different: consequential ethics all the way.

Jim Horn said...

Part of a comment that I posted at Inside Higher Ed:

I believe that a free society requires that free people allow others to be free, but that allowance does not extend to the point of using that freedom to limit others’ freedom. To allow that kind of freedom would be a direct challenge the notion of freedom, itself. Dr. King said it much better, when he said that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

I believe that justice can only be achieved after we acknowledge that profound fact, and I believe that anyone who does not acknowledge that fact and who is unwilling to act accordingly, has no place in a classroom of children whose learning of that fact will determine the future of our democratic aspirations to be a free people.

We may distinguish, too, between legal justice and social justice. The goal of social justice was around long before legal justice arrived, and it will still be here long after legal justice leaves the arena. For instance, educational discrimination based on race was antithetical to social justice long before Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, and it will remain antithetical to social justice even as the Brown decision has been and continues to be eviscerated by court decisions and legislative actions aimed at protecting the rights of the majority. This is part of the historical reality of living with racism today, just as the struggle to end racism will remain central to the struggle to create a free, democratic society.

Yet I am not naive enough to expect that such freedom will be freely given: the struggle for social justice will remain a struggle. As Dr. King said, too, “freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

That demand for freedom, then, can only begin when that oppression is acknowledged and understood by the oppressed. And that, of course, is why Dewey, King, Freire, and anyone else aimed at unlocking the chains of ignorance and are castigated by those who have much more to protect than they have to give.

There is ample reason to not be curious about what students are thinking as long as the educational focus remains on filling up, rather than opening up--or shall we say, preserving the answers, rather than creating the question.

Anonymous said...


King and Freire, certainly they were radical in their views of egalitarianism. I guess I'm a cynical observer of Dewey; he's not a god, and his views on education were more patronizing than is generally acknowledged. But I don't see any conflict between challenging students' perceptions of education, on the one hand—something that is our obligation, regardless of the POV they enter our class with, and has clear intellectual and professional purposes—and letting students have their own political philosophies that are unrelated to entry into the profession. Whom would you bar on an ideological basis?

In any case, students who disagree with a college's implied philosophy will simply cover up their views. I'm not sure it's a good idea to provide incentives for cynical lying. See Newoldschoolteacher for an example of a masters student at a famous college of education who saw her institution's 'social justice project' as a joke.

You wrote,

There is ample reason to not be curious about what students are thinking as long as the educational focus remains on filling up, rather than opening up--or shall we say, preserving the answers, rather than creating the question.

I'm not sure if that's a direct accusation. Do you really think that, because I disagree with you on this matter, I have a banking model of education?

Jim Horn said...

I only try to get in the heads of my students, not my colleagues. Whatever your model of education is, I would guess that it was in place before this little dialogue started.