Political Litmus Test for Future Teachers at University of Minnesota – Twin Cities

By on November 24, 2009

All signs are that the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities is planning to enforce a political litmus test for future teachers. The university’s College of Education and Human Development intends to mandate certain beliefs and values—"dispositions"—for future teachers. Yet that is not enough. It even intends to redesign its admissions process so that it screens out people with the wrong beliefs and values-those who it judges will not be able to be brought around to the correct beliefs and values of "cultural competence" even after remedial training.

The college’s Teacher Education Redesign Initiative includes several task groups. The Race, Culture, Class, and Gender Task Group has some very specific ideas about "cultural competence," as described in its final report (later amended) of July 16, 2009. Although the task group admits "that cultural competence remains hard to define and that current definitions lack consensus," the group emphasizes:

Nonetheless, let there be no doubt that we consider cultural competence to be an indispensable characteristic of all beginning teachers and, hence, an obligatory goal of teacher education. In fact, we believe that the following outcomes that we present should serve as an overarching framework from which beginning teachers frame the rest of teacher education courses and practice.

Here are the key excerpts regarding how the group describes the "obligatory," "indispensable" features of "cultural competence" on the level of "Self":

Our future teachers will be able to discuss their own histories and current thinking drawing on notions of white privilege, hegemonic masculinity, heteronormativity, and internalized oppression.

Future teachers will understand that they are privileged & marginalized depending on context … It is about the development of cultural empathy, if you will. Teachers first have to discover their own privilege, oppression, or marginalization and also are able to describe their cultural identity.

Future teachers will recognize & demonstrate understanding of white privilege[.]

Future teachers will understand the importance of cultural identity and develop a positive sense of racial/cultural identity[.]

On the level of "Self & Others," future teachers must take the Intercultural Development Inventory, "which measures five of the six major stages of the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity." Their "Cultural Intelligence" also will be assessed. They must reveal a "pervasive stereotype" they personally held about an identity group, and presumably argue in their paper that this view has now been "challenged" on the basis of their experiences with that group. They also will be assessed regarding "the extent to which they find intrinsic satisfaction" in being in "culturally diverse situations."

In the area of "Self & Schools,"

Future teachers will recognize that schools are socially constructed systems that are susceptible to racism. That schools and classrooms are often structured in ways that advantage and disadvantage some groups but are also critical sites for social and cultural transformation.

In this area, teachers’ "Autoethnography should reflect appreciation for how dominant pedagogical styles, school curricula, behavioral expectations, personal prejudices of school personnel (among other things) often convey overt and covert messages that devalue the culture, heritage, and identity of minority students. Writings must show awareness that, when minority individuals actively resist and reject the implicit and explicit messages attacking their ethnic identity, educational achievement is negatively impacted…. Future teachers create & fight for social justice …"

Finally, in the area of "Self & Society,"

Future teachers will understand that despite an ideal about what is considered common culture in the United States ["the American Dream"], that many groups are typically not included within this celebrated cultural identity and more often than not, many students with multi-generational histories in the United States are routinely perceived to be new immigrants or foreign. That such exclusion is frequently a result of dissimilarities in power and influence.

One of the sources for this critique is to be the concept of the "myth of meritocracy in the United States."

Here now are some of the group’s ideas for overcoming barriers to implementing this curriculum:

That all beginning teachers be required to sign up for a certain number of diversity dialogues/seminars/ workshops as a requirement for graduation?

Have students take course(s) that meet these outcomes as a condition for admission?

Develop clear steps and procedures for working with non-performing students, including a remediation plan.

As for the faculty:

Every faculty member at our university that trains our teachers must comprehend and commit to the centrality of race, class, culture, and gender issues in teaching and learning, and consequently, frame their teaching and course foci accordingly.

OK, so maybe that’s all aspirational, right? Surely the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities College of Education and Human Development would not actually try to implement all of this material on cultural competence, would it?

Sadly, the answer appears to be that it will indeed.

In an October 28, 2009, proposal to the Minnesota-based Bush Foundation, the college promises that it will revise its curriculum toward the "development of cultural competence." The college’s full articulation of this vague concept at present is just what the Race, Culture, Class, and Gender Task Group has determined it to be.

Not only that, however, the college in its proposal promises to start screening its applicants to make sure they have the proper "commitments" and "dispositions":

Develop admission procedures to assess professional commitments.

We recognize that both academic preparation and particular dispositions or professional commitments are needed for effective teaching. [Emphasis in original.]

The college promises that it will begin using "predictive criteria" to make sure that future teachers will be able to develop an acceptable level of "cultural competence"-apparently, those who do not pass the political litmus test and seem too set in their beliefs will never get admitted. This is far worse than what Columbia Teachers College does with its own "dispositions" requirement, and far in excess of what the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) has ever mandated.

Fortunately, there is still time for the college to change course. A new set of "Phase II" task groups was established in October 2009 for the purpose of "moving forward on structural dimensions" of the plan. This year’s applicants are already being warned about the possible changes, but the new "[d]ispositions assessment" is not scheduled to occur until next summer.

Here’s the kicker: The college even realizes that its efforts to impose such a severe ideological litmus test may be unconstitutional. Here’s the plan for summer 2010:

Dispositions assessment for new candidates approved (includes consultation with UMN general council) [sic]

Indeed, the university’s general counsel ought to be weighing in really soon. If the Race, Culture, Class, and Gender Task Group gets what it wants, the result will be political and ideological screening of applicants, remedial re-education for those with the wrong views and values, and withholding of degrees from those who fail to comply.

This would be a severe affront to liberty and a disservice to the very ideal of a liberating education that appears to be behind the task group’s ideas. It is a shame that the College of Education and Human Development has embraced such an illiberal view of education.

This kind of effort should be unwelcome at any modern university that values a liberal education. However, since the University of Minnesota is a public university bound by the First Amendment, it is particularly galling to learn that such a program is being planned for implementation there.

The college may well be hearing from FIRE very soon.

Schools: University of Minnesota – Twin Cities Cases: University of Minnesota – Twin Cities: Political Litmus Test for Future Teachers