Skip to comments.Prof's protest of 'political litmus test' raises hackles
Posted on 09/10/2005 5:34:05 AM PDT by Unam Sanctam
Oh, that KC Johnson. He's always getting into hot water.
Of course, that may have something to do with the fact that the administration at Brooklyn College of The City University of New York keeps trying to bring the water to a full rolling boil, hoping he'll jump out.
Well, perhaps he should. He deserves better, and his institution doesn't deserve to keep him. But his students, who on the evidence are unlikely to encounter many other faculty members who exemplify the academic virtues of free inquiry and principled disagreement, need him.
Robert KC Johnson is a tenured professor of history at Brooklyn College - and how that came to be is a story in its own right - but his current dispute is with the School of Education there.
The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, which gets to stamp its imprimatur on certification programs that conform to its views on pedagogy, in 2002 moved further into politics by making student "dispositions" a part of its accreditation process. To earn accreditation, teacher-preparation programs were evaluated on how well their graduates demonstrate a disposition toward social justice.
That's in addition to demonstrating that their graduates know their subject matter well and are effective in presenting it in the classroom, two essential matters that most ed schools are notoriously unable to accomplish.
The problem with "social justice" as a goal is that it is something everybody can be for as long as they don't have to agree on what it means. Does social justice in college basketball require that men and women play on the same teams, or on different ones? And if they play on the same teams, does social justice require that the teams "reflect" the male/female proportion of the student body, or that men and women with equal skills have an equal chance of making the team?
I'm sure you can all think of more consequential examples, but that's the point; people come to different conclusions on questions of social justice, and their conclusions are as rigidly aligned with their political views as iron filings constrained by a powerful magnet. And in university departments, which tend toward ideological uniformity, all the filings point the same way.
Brooklyn College adopted the "dispositions" standard with alacrity. And in an article posted on Inside Higher Ed May 23 (links from www.thefire.org)Johnson criticized the results.
The education faculty, he said, assumes as fact that "an education centered on social justice prepares the highest quality of future teachers." He cited a required course called "Language and Literacy Development in Secondary Education" whose instructor spent the class period before Election Day showing Michael Moore's political polemic Fahrenheit 9/11 and insisted that students acknowledge that "white English" was an "oppressors' language." Several students, Johnson said, had filed written complaints with the department chair about inappropriately political instruction.
Because the education faculty has so little intellectual diversity, he said, the NCATE "dispositions" standard is a de facto political litmus test.
Such criticism is clearly within the boundaries of academic freedom (after all, Ward Churchill of the University of Colorado is in trouble because of other allegations; he got an official pass on "little Eichmanns"). Johnson's criticism may be mistaken, but it should be taken seriously and the facts alleged either confirmed or denied.
Instead, the School of Education went into full "How dare you say that!" mode. On official letterhead, signed by 34 faculty and administrators and sent to just about everybody important they could think of who might have some say over Johnson's position at Brooklyn College, they expressed their "contempt" for what they describe as his "attacks on a colleague" and decried his "woeful ignorance" of "what educators across the country are trying to accomplish."
They admit he has the right to make whatever claims he wishes, but conclude "we must insist you stop such attacks."
That is, he has the right to express opinions with which they disagree, but they insist he not exercise it.
You really ought to read the whole letter. Its language is so intemperate, and so devoid of any indication that facts entered into its writing, as to make clear that Johnson's analysis of the ed school's own political dispositions is dead on target.
According to FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), "the faculty union's Professional Staff Congress held an 'emergency academic freedom' meeting" shortly after Johnson's article appeared. It threatened an investigation by an ominously named "Integrity Committee," although Johnson has not been officially notified of any such investigation. The college administration has not responded either to Johnson or to FIRE concerning whether there is such an investigation.
"Few forms of speech are more clearly protected than a professor's right to criticize pedagogical standards he or she may find unsound or unfair," said FIRE's Greg Lukianoff.
One would hope so. But apparently it's not true at Brooklyn College.
Linda Seebach is an editorial writer for the News. She can be reached by telephone at (303) 892-2519 or by e-mail at seebach@RockyMountainNews.com.
As I said, I want to teach but it'll have to be in a private school. I haven't the stomach for the certification process the NEA uses to control access to young minds.
The key is productivity: if you have the publications, a university cannot keep you out; and on a high-school/elementary school level, if you are a great teacher and love kids, the NEA can't stop you.
Let the critics be damned and go for it.
I used to think only right wing kooks (like myself) complained of NEA politics. But there was an article posted here 2-3 months ago about the radicalization of their latest conference in LA that gave me pause. It seems that the NEA's not even pretending to be fair and balanced any longer.
I wish I had that article.
They can't stop you but they can limit your options. In this state (CT) and many others they effectively limit public school employment to teachers with state certification. The private school route is the remaining option and, since money is not the objective, it's an option I will pursue.
Or do what you need to do, say what you need to say to get the cert, then do what you want!
I took classes with KC, good guy, BC doesn't deserve him. I told him more than once to teach somewhere where they might appreciate him. Funny part is, he's a lib. Yeah, he's not Leftist enough for them.
NEA should not be doing the certifiying. They are a union. Certification should be done by a third party agency made up of future employers. After all, school should prepare children to enter the world of adults as well rounded individuals.
No one advances in the Dept of Ed without NEA membership and, as they tell it, it's not a union, it's a professional association
The first time I heard the term "social justice" it puzzled me. I knew what justice means; but what does the adjective social bring to it?
I have since learned that those who use "social justice" put the accent on social, as in "socialism," at the expense of the justice part. The term is little more than a code-word for Marxism.
Orwell would be proud (or disgusted).
Ugg Conn. I left there over 42 years ago. Back then the liberal schools wouldn't allow military recruiters. I skipped school one day in high school and met a recruiter, playing pool. He groomed me for a 30 year career in the military, with no thanks to the liberal school system in Conn. All those southern schools that had ROTC programs in high school got an automatic promotion, making it almost one year ahead of us. So much for career day in Connecticut.
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