Indefensible Dispositions

By on October 19, 2005

As the “dispositions” controversy rages on at Washington State (see also John Leo’s excellent column in this week’s edition of U.S. News & World Report), the defenders of ideological indoctrination are starting to step forward. Predictably, the argument follows the tired pattern of swearing loyalty to fairness and the First Amendment, but then following up with a qualifier that swallows the rule. “I love the First Amendment, but—.”
 
In the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, Dawn Shinew, a faculty member in the education department at WSU wrote to defend her program. Unfortunately, the Daily News does not make its articles available on the web (taking a page from TimesSelect, perhaps?), so I’ll have to pull the best excerpts.
 
Professor Shinew says some good things, of course:
The issue here is not some form of political correctness; many (maybe even most) of our students hold conservative political and religious beliefs and successfully complete the program. In fact, I hope to have the full spectrum of opinions represented in classroom discussions (and not merely the center and left as McClure posited in his editorial) as such diversity of opinions lends itself to a critical analysis of current trends in education. Nor is this simply an issue of freedom of speech. Our Constitution protects the right to express our beliefs, and I don’t contest anyone’s right to make comments that may be construed as inappropriate and offensive in private or public venues.
So far, so good. In fact, this paragraph could have been written by one of FIRE’s intrepid staff members. Unfortunately, the professor does not quit while she’s ahead. She goes on:
In a teacher preparation program, expressions of personal beliefs may raise doubts about an individual’s ability to meet the needs of all learners in his or her future classroomparticularly given increasingly diverse student populations. If there is evidence that a teacher candidate may not be able to interact with all students and parents in a fair and equitable manner, it is the program’s legal, moral, and ethical obligation to address these concerns. [Emphasis added.]
And here we have it, the “personal beliefs” exception that swallows the rule. In the interests of protecting “increasingly diverse student populations,” we need to probe the personal beliefs of students. That is the justification for the persecution of Ed Swan. He doesn’t believe in gay adoptions, so he may have trouble teaching gay students. He hunts, so he might be “dangerous.” He doesn’t believe that “white privilege” exists, so he can’t teach—well, anyone.
 
Education schools have a great advantage over most other university departments: they are able to evaluate students as they actually perform the job they are training for. In other words, during the student-teaching process, education students actually teach, and the school is able to determine whether the students are effective in the classroom. It doesn’t matter if I believe that the Egyptian god Ra has appointed me to will the White Sox to a World Series victory; if I can teach seventh graders math, then I’m a good teacher. If I believe that Michael Savage should be the next president of the United States, but I can teach first graders to read and treat all my students with respect, then I’m a good teacher. If I believe that Martin Luther King, Jr., was the greatest American of all time and that America desperately needs to overcome persistent class, race, gender, and sexual orientation discrimination, but spend my physics class talking about “white privilege” rather than the doppler effect, then I’m a bad teacher.
 
Don’t evaluate Ed Swan’s “personal beliefs.” Evaluate his knowledge of the subject matter, and evaluate his actual in-class behavior. Take the totalitarianism out of education schools.

Schools: Washington State University