FIRE in the ‘Chronicle’ on Political Litmus Tests for Education Students

By on March 26, 2007

One of the ongoing scandals in higher education that FIRE has been keeping track of—and fighting—is the existence of political litmus tests at schools of education and social work across the country. And I don’t mean political litmus tests for professors, which is what most people think of when they think of bias in academia. I mean litmus tests for students, which may be even scarier. The problems and concerns with having a faculty that shares one monolithic political perspective have been well-publicized and are widely known. But while ideological uniformity among the faculty is a problem, forced ideological uniformity among students with no tolerance for dissent renders the ideal of the modern liberal university completely impossible to reach.
Unfortunately, this is exactly the environment that Columbia’s Teachers College, as well as other colleges of education and social work such as the social work school at Rhode Island College, are endeavoring to create—and FIRE President Greg Lukianoff is blowing the whistle on them once again in the March 30 edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Greg discusses the fact that these institutions are telling students what beliefs and even what political views they must have in order to get a teaching degree. Noting that Teachers College requires students to believe that “social inequalities are often produced and perpetuated through systematic discrimination and justified by societal ideology of merit, social mobility, and individual responsibility,” Greg asks, “Does Teachers College really believe that a student who thinks ‘social responsibility’ and ‘merit’ are positive societal values would not make a good teacher?”
FIRE has been working to roll back these requirements for nearly two years now. One of our biggest successes was helping convince the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, the foremost accrediting body for schools of education, to stop encouraging the use of these litmus tests in education schools. However, regulations that require students to have a unified ideological perspective are still in place at many schools, and FIRE has a long fight ahead of it. It’s a fight that is worth the cost, though—after all, if those who want all of our nation’s teachers to think and act the same way succeed, it is our children who will pay the price by receiving an inferior education that will do nothing to develop skills like critical thinking that are so important in the real world. After all, if teachers come to believe that some opinions are never to be challenged or criticized, how can we expect them to teach anything else to the students of the future?

Schools: Columbia University Cases: Columbia University: Ideological Litmus Tests at Teachers College