Character evaluations are absurd, offensive

October 4, 2005

Washington State University’s College of Education needs to rethink how it evaluates character in future teachers. Perhaps the best way to start would be to define character because we’re obviously on different pages.

A person’s character is not measured by whether or not they espouse opinions on political or social issues that you agree with. WSU’s College of Education needs to come to grips with that in a hurry, as the university works through the protests of Edward R. Swan.

The college threatened to boot Swan out of the program after he “failed” four evaluations of his character. The basis for those failing marks appears to be Swan’s conservative views on some of the hot-button issues of the day. That’s absurd and downright offensive to those of us who believe in a hearty exchange of ideas.

The state requires WSU’s College of Education to sign off on each student’s “good character” at graduation. For the past four years, a system based on “dispositions theory” has been in place in the college to evaluate a student’s character. Each semester, faculty fill out a “professional dispositions evaluation” form for each student they have in class.

Swan, who has earned good grades at WSU, received failing marks on his PDE last school year. He passed several other PDEs from other faculty.

Swan realized last fall his personal opinions put him in a small minority at the College of Education, where social and political matters often are discussed in class in the teacher preparation program.

Swan admits he’s conservative and has strong opinions — as do many other people. Those opinions aren’t shared by everyone, but diversity doesn’t mean you start at the middle of the political spectrum and move left. It means there should be some recognition that a great many opinions exist.

Swan’s biggest mistake in all of this appears to be that he told the truth. When he asked a faculty member if he should voice his own opinions or say what people wanted to hear, the professor told him to speak his mind. For that he was shot down and his education was put in jeopardy.

If the College of Education and its cohorts around the country want to weed out felons and convicted sex offenders, or those who just don’t like children, there won’t be much argument from us.

But there shouldn’t be a litmus test for political and social opinions attached to an education degree.

—Steve McClure, for the editorial board

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Schools: Washington State University Cases: Washington State University: Use of Dispositions Theory to Enforce Ideological Orthodoxy