FIRE recently released a video about KC Johnson’s dispute with the Brooklyn College School of Education (BCSOE) over an article he published on “Dispositions Theory,” or the theory that prospective public school teachers must be disposed to certain sets of highly politicized beliefs.
David Thompson’s recent blog post, “Dissident Academic Feels the Warmth of ‘Social Justice'” (cited by Amy Alkon in her subsequent article, “How to Screen Out Teachers with ‘Undesirable’ Social Beliefs”) employs Johnson’s case as an example to illustrate the dangers of promoting monolithic theories of social justice in education schools. Thompson reviewed various teacher-training outlines at education schools around the country (originally selected by Johnson) and discovered that they went far beyond just training teachers how to teach:
“Diversity” and identity politics feature prominently and teachers-to-be are referred to as “critical thinking change agents.” These “agents” will use the classroom “to transcend the negative effects of the dominant culture” and will “speak on behalf of identified constituent groups,” becoming “advocates for those on the margins of society (italics in original).”
While it may seem honorable for teachers to advocate for those on the margins of society, they shouldn’t be forced to do so, nor does it necessarily make sense that social advocacy for their own causes should be the main focus of their teaching. Thompson later says:
Some programmes encourage teachers to regard themselves as “enlightened leaders” who “must understand the political nature of education,” that “education is a political act,” and thereby “act as change agents,” while “developing emerging theories to support change agentry principles and processes.”
It seems like “School of Thought Reform” would be a more appropriate title for these education schools. How will our children learn to think for themselves if their teachers never learned to think for themselves? Johnson laments teachers’ new role:
Traditionally, prospective teachers needed to demonstrate knowledge of their subject field and mastery of essential educational skills. In recent years, however, an amorphous third criterion called “dispositions” has emerged. As one conference devoted to the concept explained, using this standard would produce “teachers who possess knowledge and discernment of what is good or virtuous.” Advocates leave ideologically one-sided education departments to determine “what is good or virtuous.”
So what are some examples of teaching that are considered “good” or “virtuous”? Johnson provided this example from a required class at BCSOE:
According to numerous students, the course’s instructor demanded that they recognize “white English” as the “oppressors’ language.” Without explanation, the class spent its session before Election Day screening Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. When several students complained to the professor about the course’s politicised content, they were informed that their previous education had left them “brainwashed” on matters relating to race and social justice.
To make matters even worse, after several students submitted written complaints about what they saw as the professor’s blatant abuse of responsibility, three of them faced disciplinary measures!
When Johnson spoke out against their mistreatment in his article, he soon found himself on the wrong side of the “social justice” fence. Luckily, FIRE helped him defend his First Amendment rights, but other professors and students might not be so lucky, as described in this video:
Thompson concludes, “‘Social justice,’ people. Feel its warmth.” Hopefully, we don’t let it get so warm that it burns critical thinking to ashes.