Paying an ideological ransom for the right to teach

June 7, 2006

Our education establishment is a minefield of attempts to control what students think and say. Take the harmless-sounding "dispositions theory," for example.

The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) says ed schools and programs must require teachers in training to demonstrate the "dispositions necessary to help all students learn," such as a commitment to social justice. Everyone is for social justice, but it’s odd that would-be teachers would have to convince their professors of such commitment before getting to teach. Since ed schools are essentially a liberal monoculture, conservative and moderate students concluded that their political opinions were being probed and that they were being asked to endorse the belief systems of their programs as the price of being allowed to teach. The Fordham Foundation posted an article by William Damon opposing the dispositions requirement, saying that his article gave credence to charges of ideological arm-twisting and Orwellian mind control.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) entered the case and got action. FIRE complained to the Department of Education that there is no way an ed school can evaluate a student’s commitment to social justice without evaluating that student’s politics. NCATE backed down and agreed to drop the social justice requirement.

"Dispositions" is not the only slippery term circulating in the world of teacher training. Another is "cultural competence," which appears just as harmless. Oregon defines "cultural competence" as a "commitment to social justice and equity." "Equity" is a code word for affirmative action, preferences, and other diversity programs. But Oregon goes on to explain in plain English that "cultural competence" means the acceptance of multiple worldviews, the management of difference, and "actively challenging the status quo and advocating for equity and social justice."

"For many, cultural competence is transformative and political," say the state standards, explicitly politicizing education. And what does cultural competence mean to an educator who wants to become a principal?

Phyllis Edmundson, dean of the graduate school of education at Portland State University, explained this clearly in the New York Times: "She might acknowledge that she is a beneficiary of privilege, a party to perpetuating institutional racism, an unconscious oppressor, and an imperfect exemplar of cultural responsiveness." No slippery language there. Just ideology being imposed on teachers.

Cases: NCATE: Encouragement of Political Litmus Tests in Higher Education