March 28 2014
What a Wonderful World: You Don't Have to Master a Subject Before Teaching It
President Barack Obama, the poster boy for elite education in the United States, doesn’t seem to know much about history. That was the gist of a post earlier today (here).
In the past, American leaders could be assumed to have a high level of knowledge, even if they hailed from remote parts of the nation and chopped wood with their own hands. I’m reading Congressional Records from the early nineteenth century, and I am amazed and delighted by the clarity with which these legislators spoke. They make classical and literary references that would baffle our contemporary solons. They have mastered the subjects about which they rise to speak.
Since we spend a lot of money on education and indeed young people emerge from college burdened with frightening amounts of debt to obtain an education, this decline in historical literacy shouldn’t be happening. We should be more educated, not less educated, if you count up the vast sums we spend on education.
One can only surmise that something must be rotten in the world of education. The answer may be very simple: education is now just an adjunct to ideology. Logic? Who needs it when you can advocate for the latest fad.
I think KC Johnson, a professor of history at Brooklyn College, is onto the answer: education is no longer concerned with—well-education—but with making sure that teachers display certain approved ideas. In an article for Inside Higher Ed, Johnson writes about how educators push social justice.
It is, in fact, almost impossible to get into a graduate teaching program without showing advocacy for social justice. The problem is that social justice is, as Johnson points out, a political or ideological goal. While a conservative point of view on, say, religious liberty could be considered a social justice stance, it won’t pass muster in modern education circles. In higher education, social justice means advocacy and acceptance of the liberal agenda.
This is long, but I want to quote some of the requirements for acceptance to a program for future teachers that Johnson culled from various sources:
- At the State University of New York at Oneonta, prospective teachers must “provide evidence of their understanding of social justice in teaching activities, journals, and portfolios . . . and identify social action as the most advanced level.”
- The program at the University of Kansas expects students to be “more global than national and concerned with ideals such as world peace, social justice, respect for diversity and preservation of the environment.”
- The University of Vermont’s department envisions creating “a more humane and just society, free from oppression, that fosters respect for ethnic and cultural diversity.”
- Marquette’s program “has a commitment to social justice in schools and society,” producing teachers who will use the classroom “to transcend the negative effects of the dominant culture.”
- According to the University of Toledo, “Education is our prime vehicle for creating the ‘just’ society,” since “we are preparing citizens to lead productive lives in a democratic society characterized by social justice.”
Such requirements, while they might look nice on the surface, don’t promote an intellectually diverse academic environment. Johnson points out that these requirements are generally much more important than a future teacher’s mastery of the subject she is preparing to teach.
Johnson recounts what happened at his college when National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education guidelines, that call for social justice credentials, were instituted:
At the undergraduate level, these high-sounding principles have been translated into practice through a required class called “Language and Literacy Development in Secondary Education.”
According to numerous students, the course’s instructor demanded that they recognize “white English” as the “oppressors’ language.” Without explanation, the class spent its session before Election Day screening Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11.
When several students complained to the professor about the course’s politicized content, they were informed that their previous education had left them “brainwashed” on matters relating to race and social justice.
When five Brooklyn College students protested, they were ignored or, in a more extreme case, told to pursue teaching preparation at another institution.
Instead of promoting mastery of a subject and lively discussions of what social justice means—which would expose students to different points of view—conversation was shut down.
Who’s really doing the brainwashing?