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???