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Back to January Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 288 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS JANUARY 2010

University of Minnesota Plans to Re-Educate Teachers
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A civil liberties organization and other critics are denouncing the recommendations of the Race, Culture, Class and Gender Task Group at the University of Minnesota flagship Twin Cities campus for its proposal that race, class and gender form the "overarching framework" of all teacher education coursework. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) dispatched a letter to the University President Robert Bruininks in November urging the university's College of Education and Human Development to "change course." FIRE director Adam Kissel warned that if the task group achieved its stated goals, "the result will be political and ideological screening of applicants, remedial re-education for those with the 'wrong' views and values, and withholding of degrees from those upon whom the university's political reeducation efforts proved ineffective." He wrote that, "These intentions violate the freedom of conscience of the university's students. As a public university bound by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, the university is both legally and morally obligated to uphold this fundamental right."

The task group is one of seven formed as part of the University's Teacher Education Redesign Initiative. The initiative is "premised, in part, on the conviction that Minnesota teachers' lack of 'cultural competence' contributes to the poor academic performance of the state's minority students," according to Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten. She said in her 11-21-09 column that the proposed plan would require teachers to "embrace — and be prepared to teach [Minnesota] kids — the task force's own vision of America as an oppressive hellhole: racist, sexist and homophobic."

Jean Quam, dean of the university's College of Education and Human Development, responded to Kersten with her own piece in the Star-Tribune. "Kersten's primary concern is that the initiative addresses the reality of how issues of race, class, culture and gender play out in classrooms and affect student achievement. Her position is that discussion of these issues equates to indoctrination. Our belief is that acknowledging these issues is essential to teacher and student success and that ignoring them will not make them go away," wrote Quam.

According to the final report submitted by the Race, Culture, Class and Gender task force in July 2009 (later amended), "Teachers first have to discover their own privilege, oppression, or marginalization, and [be] able to describe their cultural identity," in order to effectively teach a diverse student population. Furthermore, teachers must explain how "white privilege, hegemonic masculinity, heteronormativity, and internalized oppression" have impacted their thinking, and also "create and fight for social justice, even if it's just in their classroom." The report demands that future educators be prepared to instruct students on the "myth of meritocracy" in the United States, the "history of demands for assimilation to white, middle-class, Christian meanings and values," and the "history of white racism with special focus on current colorblind ideology."

FIRE director Kissler maintained that while some teachers might want to work for "social and cultural transformation" in their classrooms, "Some might just want to teach math."

The task force document also addresses potential obstacles to achieving its stated goals and offers methods to overcome these obstacles. "What," the report asks, "if students fail to meet outcomes for lack of skill or motivation?" Then the university must "develop clear steps and procedures for working with non-performing students, including a remediation plan." Another option listed for addressing non-compliant students would be to have them take courses that meet the outcomes "as a condition for admission" to the program.

Kissler's letter to President Bruininks also expressed concern about assignments students would have to complete, including one in which they must "reveal a 'pervasive stereotype' they personally held about an identity group, and evidently must argue in a personal essay that this view has now been 'challenged' on the basis of their experiences with that identity group." In an interview with Fox News, Kissler further surmised that, based upon the language of the recommendations, "if you say, 'well actually I don't have a pervasive stereotype' . . . you're probably going to get a bad grade."

Minnesota University spokesman Dan Wolter said that FIRE is wrong about the proposal. "It's not at all what they're suggesting — that it's some sort of litmus test — it's just making sure that teachers are prepared to deal with the different situations that they might have for each and every student — which has been a challenge in the past," he said. "Teachers obviously come from one perspective, so if they've got 15 other people of different backgrounds in their classrooms it's a completely different situation."

Constitutional attorney Steve Greenberg agrees with Kissler that the proposed plan violates both student and teacher rights. "They're telling people you have to look back on these feelings that you have, whether you have them or not — if you don't have them you better find them — and then you better address them this way, and then after going through step B, step C is that you have to look at the world through this viewpoint," said Greenberg. "You can say it's not a litmus test . . . but the truth of the matter is - it's a litmus test."

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), an independent network of more than 10,000 U.S. college and university trustees, also registered its alarm with a letter sent to members of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents. "At a time of reported shortages of teachers with the knowledge and skills necessary to address the challenges in K-12, it is surely troubling that some at the University of Minnesota apparently seek to promote standards that, in practice, ignore academic goals and lead to a politicized determination of who is qualified to be a teacher," wrote ACTA's president, Anne D. Neal. The letter calls upon the University of Minnesota trustees to uphold their fiduciary duty to students, faculty and taxpayers to do all they can to "guarantee the free exchange of ideas" at the public institution.

Wolter said that the task force recommendations would undergo a deliberative process and that the concerns raised by FIRE and others are "helpful to this process . . . as the final product is being shaped." The university intends that the first group of prospective teachers will enter the redesigned program during the summer of 2011.

An October 28, 2009 letter from the education college to the Archibald and Edyth Bush Foundation seemed to indicate an intention to go forward with the implementation the recommendations of the task force. In that proposal the college pledged to revise its curriculum to incorporate the "development of cultural competence," and to begin screening applicants to the program for the proper "dispositions." Apparently pleased with the proposal and undaunted by public criticism, the Bush Foundation has committed $4.5 million to the University of Minnesota for teacher education, as reported in a December 3, 2009 university press release.

The University of Minnesota is only the most recently publicized university that is reportedly trying to mandate a particular ideology and political stance for its faculty and students. The mindset and intentions of its Race, Culture, Class and Gender Task Group align with that of major education schools including Cal State in Los Angeles and the Teachers College of Columbia University in New York, according to Gilbert Sewall, director of the American Textbook Council and president of the Center for Education Studies (phibetacons.nationalreview.com, 12-7-09). The University of Delaware and Missouri State University have also been criticized in recent years for similar attempts to institutionalize an ideology of "social justice" under the guise of "cultural competence." (WorldNetDaily, 11-27-09; Fox News, 12-10-09)


 
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