Thursday, April 26, 2007

She Should Just Stick to History (I Think…)

A recent article in Education Next continues the attack on “social justice” in schools of education. Laurie Moses Hines, an assistant professor of education at Kent State University, Trumbull (in Cultural Foundations, of all areas, for goodness sake), published “Return of the Thought Police” that made the basic argument that “The screening of prospective teachers for maladjustment 50 years ago and the dispositions assessments going on today have remarkable similarities.” Both, she argues, are useless and politically regressive.

Oh, it is just all too easy to pick on teacher education programs and dispositions. Us, bad, bad, indoctrinators.

I am not going to argue about the historical data; for all I know she is right. What I deeply, deeply reject and resent is that she takes a situation of dire educational consequence—the drastic education gap across racial, ethnic, SES, and immigrant status categories—and slams the easy targets of educators trying to figure out how best to solve the dilemma. Moreover, she does this in an extremely sloppy manner—full of errors and misunderstandings—all, it appears, to get embraced by the right type of crowd.

Let me throw out the most blatant problems.

The first is that she just cherry picks the easy fruit, the issues that have gotten oh so much attention:
1. A prospective teacher expelled because he advocated corporal punishment (such as spanking) in his philosophy of education paper
2. Incidents at Brooklyn College, which included being shown Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 9/11 and an occasion where students in a class on language and literacy development told to accept that “white English” is the “oppressors’ language”
3. A prospective teacher asked to attend a “sensitivity training” session because he wrote, among other things, that there was no such thing as “male privilege”

None of these occurrences, I should be clear, are defensible on the part of the faculty. Students should not be graded on whether they correctly parrot back the professors’ ideology.

But exactly because she picks the easy fruit allows her to glide over the big picture, which is that there is no data that such occurrences actually happen on any scale in higher education. Pennsylvania was the only state that actually held hearings on Horowitz’s claims of students being indoctrinated. The panel, after a year, concluded that there was absolutely no basis upon which to make such egregious claims. As the Chronicle reported, “While the draft report says the panel was urged to endorse a statewide policy guaranteeing students' rights, it says the committee felt such a step was "unnecessary" because violations of students' academic freedom "are rare."”

The second, related to the first, is that in her haste to grab the easy fruit, she misses the issue. Her use of NCATE as an example is telling. She states that “social justice” was “Within the list of [NCATE] dispositions” and then takes a swipe at Arthur Wise by stating that “he maintains that social justice was never a required disposition.”

Oh, if only she would read. NCATE mentioned social justice as one example among many in the glossary section that defines terminology. Social justice was never, ever, ever, a disposition that NCATE “tested” for.

The third, and the really galling issue, is that she has this naive belief that by not discussing one ideological set of principles (social justice), students are by default neutral and just fine. Which, of course, completely ignores and obfuscates that the lack of discussion of issues of race, class, and gender is itself an ideology. All this talk about dispositions actually has a basis in facts and reality. Dropout rates for Latino and African-American youth hover around 50%. Kids from top income bracket get into top colleges at rates 25 times those of kids in the low income bracket. Household wealth disparities, urban segregation patterns; access to health care. Do I need to go on??

Of course smart people can disagree about how to solve these issues. But to just say that all our discussions about race, class, and gender is ideology is even worse, for it refuses to engage the most pressing of educational issues.

Finally, two small points. A Google search revealed that she sat on a committee that approved Kent State University’s Educational Diversity Plan. This plan had as its aim that all faculty, students, administrators and staff (which includes her, I guess),

“become more diverse, our strategy and response to diversity becomes living practice that leads to:
everyone in the CGSE being able to see multiple images of her/him self-portrayed throughout the faculty, students, administrators, and staff as well as in the curriculum experiences that the CGSE offers to ALL;
· everyone in the CGSE being able to see her/himself as democratically accountable, and socially responsible to contribute positive changes to the unit’s mission of diversity; and
everyone in the CGSE will become an active leader (meaning more than a participant) in developing and implementing responsive strategies for continuous improvement on the unit’s diversity mission, which will form the culture of CGSE as transcultural.”

Hmmm...sounds like a conflict of interest? Hypocrisy? Not following her own committee decision? You tell me.

And a really, really, last small point. In the article she identifies herself as an assistant professor in both education and history. But I didn’t see her name in the directory of faculty in the history department…. Now why do you think she would make that up???


Aaron Schutz said...

Education Next is published by the Hoover Institution, which is kind of (but not exactly) like being published by the American Enterprise Institute. At least this wasn't published in some journal without a clear ideological bent.


Dan W. Butin said...

Yes and no Aaron. Education Next actually has some good stuff, some balanced, some not. But even the conservative-leaning articles usually are clear and precise.

And while I know you didn't mean it in this way, to dismiss the article out of hand misses the bigger issue that there is in fact very little middle ground in these larger "social justice" debates. Note what happened at AERA.


Aaron Schutz said...

I didn't mean to dismiss it out of hand, since I saw on google that it's being cited fairly widely.

But I suppose I did just assume that whatever came out of Hoover was probably problematic. So thanks for the correction.

Jim Horn said...

Is the battle against inclusive factual history, education for democracy, and social justice dispositions having any effect? Sure enough—in a spineless acquiescence to the anti-political-correctness political correctors, NCATE quickly folded up on the issue and issued an urgent bulletin. From the Chronicle (12/16/05):

"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."

And then from the Chronicle, 6/16/06:

"The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education won a key endorsement last week in its quest for continued federal approval of its accrediting power after announcing that it would drop controversial language about social justice from its accrediting standards for teacher-preparation programs.

The council, which is the nation's largest teacher-education accrediting group, has come under fire from conservative activists for the wording of a glossary appendix to standards for candidates in education programs."

Beliefs, values, philosophy, or ethical commitments don’t matter anymore 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 constitutes foundations. Sure does seem to open the door for TEAC or another accrediting body that is not afraid to take a stand for an inclusive democracy.

By the way, did you ever wonder how it happened in Germany? This offers a perfect contemporary example of the universities taking the lead role of appeasor.

Sherman Dorn said...

The arguments about "social justice" and teacher education have tended to be superficial. There's a world of difference between making sure that students understand their legal and ethical obligations and exposing students to arguments about equity, on the one hand, and trying to judge their virtue in one or another area, on the other. We have a history of trying to judge teachers' virtues. Whether the virtue in question is chastity, "Americanism," empathy, or whatnot doesn't matter much. It's still trying to judge a person's virtue, and I don't think there's any evidence it's appropriate or has benefits for students or society.

To be honest, the term "social justice" hasn't helped clarify things -- it's often used as a buzzword both inside and outside colleges of education. I've heard it referred to by colleagues as a general bin for making students aware of equity issues, but I've also heard it used for the judgment of virtue that gives me the heebie-jeebies. I'm happy to see the term go, if only so we can talk with more clarity about what we really mean.

And I think the last point in the post (about Hines's departmental home) is a misleading one. We historians of education can be found both in history departments and also schools and colleges of education. Some institutions are freer with courtesy appointments in cognate departments than others.

Dan W. Butin said...


I agree about each of your points. My goal throughout here has been for greater clarity.

I agree "social justice" in and of itself is vague and unhelpful. But we need to make sure that in removing the term that we don't also remove the discussions about the deep inequitable realities that the term indexes.

And my comment about departmental affiliation was not meant ad hominem. Usually appointments by courtesy are stated and explicit. It is a standard move that academics refer to their most prestigous affiliation, and eductaion is never considered prestigous. (David Labaree nailed this one.) So when I see an academic do that, and there is no data to support such an affiliation, I see it as simply running away from one's educational background. I have no "ego" problem being in a school of education. No need to hide, as such, behind being a "historian."

Richard said...

I think "social justice" remains an important, though imperfect, phrase in combatting the current efforts to undermine education outside its instrumental and economic purposes. Social justice defines a paradigm that includes important issues of not only equity but also respect for and acknowledgement of cultural difference. It seems to me to simply accept the continued attacks of the right on anything "political" in education is to play into their hands.

From my humble perspective (as a doctoral student), I think it is essential that we do the opposite -- advocating for holistic education, the sensible and non-proselytizing inclusion of political questions in classrooms and civics education and culturally-specific pedagogy as necessary to close achievement gaps and revitalize civic engagement and democracy itself (ala Dewey et al).

Sherman Dorn said...


You wrote, Social justice defines a paradigm that includes important issues of not only equity but also respect for and acknowledgment of cultural difference.

I guess I don't see how one can identify a single label with a broad description with multiple meanings: "equity ... [plus] cultural difference." You could have multiple purposes of education that fit that description. That's one problem with the phrase: it's non-specific. I don't have to agree with some critics of NCATE to acknowledge that, and picking one's conceptual terms by who opposes the terms doesn't make sense to me.