Politically Correct?

November 18, 2005

Has political correctness run amok at Washington State University’s College of Education in Pullman?

We don’t think so. But the college might have pushed the envelope further than necessary in its efforts to ensure that the teachers it produces are prepared and eager to work positively with culturally diverse enrollments.

Certainly Ed Swan and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education  (www.thefire.org) think WSU was out of line. But, if things go well from here on, the 42-year-old Swan, from Othello, Wash., will be teaching elementary school next fall.

Swan, who calls himself a “traditionalist” in gender relations, marriage etc., was nearly terminated from the education program after expressing conservative religious and social views in class last year and writing this in the margin of a textbook: “Diversity is perversity.”

That philosophy might not go over too well in Othello, where he is to do his student teaching this winter and where the majority of the population is Hispanic.

According to The Associated Press, evaluations of WSU’s education students include assessment of their ability and willingness to exhibit an understanding of the complexities of race, power, gender, class, sexual orientation and privilege in America.

Swan failed that item on the evaluations of four faculty members and was threatened with termination from the WSU program. Instructors said they feared he couldn’t keep his opinions to himself in the classroom. He was ordered to take a diversity training program and also was asked to sign a pledge to respect community norms and appreciate diversity.

FIRE entered the fray on Swan’s behalf, arguing the pledge was unconstitutional. WSU decided to switch rather than fight on that point and dropped the pledge requirement. Swan has a legitimate complaint when he says that only one of the four instructors with negative evaluations had actually met and talked with him. It’s also troubling that one faculty member wrote that Swan, who has four biracial children, was a white supremacist.

Concerns on the other side are also legitimate. Human resources directors at the Evergreen and Vancouver school districts want universities to prepare teachers who will enthusiastically deal with diverse student bodies, regardless of their personal views. There’s considerable feeling on the WSU faculty that Swan hasn’t demonstrated that enthusiasm.

“We want teachers to cause students from those backgrounds to excel better because they feel more valued and appreciated,” said Vancouver’s Lee Goeke.

Evergreen’s Jerry Piland said, “our folks are all required to go through diversity training. We aren’t trying to promote a certain thinking, but, given the way our area is changing demographically, we think it is important.”

Perhaps some instructors, who perhaps have been buoyed by an unwritten institutional culture at the WSU College of Education, have been antagonistic toward Swan’s personal views. Maybe they have pushed too hard in the wrong places to turn out teachers with the kind of sensitivity to diversity that Goeke and Piland seek. But Swan, and all future teachers, need to appreciate the benefits of diversity and the reality of changing ethnic and cultural profiles in this state.

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