Yesterday the Omaha World-Herald covered the teacher education scandal at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities, where the Race, Culture, Class, and Gender Task Group proposed an ideological litmus test for future teachers based on a highly politicized notion of "cultural competence." FIRE intervened, and the case made national news before the university's top lawyer finally promised that the university would never screen out prospective students with the "wrong" views.
Yesterday's article connects this scandal to a decision in April 2011 by the Omaha school board to buy 8,000 copies of a book arguing that teachers should "take action for social justice" on a variety of controversial topics. Study sessions about the book will be part of teachers' professional development. According to the article, the book makes controversial claims about teachers and what personal values they should hold and espouse:
Only those educators who acknowledge the existence of white privilege in America, that "white" is a culture in America and that race "is a definer for social and economic status" can reach proficiency, the authors contend. Those who score poorly on the worksheet are asked in the book what they will do "to align yourself with the values expressed."
A primary concern of critics is that schools and universities could use cultural proficiency as an ideological litmus test [...]
In 2009 the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities drew criticism when a task force proposed introducing cultural competency requirements for its teacher candidates.
The task force proposed that future teachers, in order to be recommended for licensure, should "recognize and demonstrate understanding of white privilege," fight for social justice and take tests to measure their "intercultural sensitivity" and "cultural intelligence."
Among the critics were the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit watchdog group advocating individual rights at America's colleges and universities, which argued that the proposals intruded on matters of individual freedom and conscience.
What K-12 school boards choose to do is outside of FIRE's mission, but journalist Joe Dejka is correct that the push for "cultural competence" in education is "a trend across the country." This in itself is not necessarily a problem for individual rights—educating people about different cultures is perfectly possible to do in a non-coercive way—but FIRE will continue to fight such teacher education programs on the college level when they require individuals to hold and espouse specific values that violate their freedom of conscience.
In need of First Amendment resources for teachers? The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has you covered. Our "First Things First" First Amendment textbook for college undergraduates explores the fundamentals of modern American free speech law. Meanwhile, our K-12 First Amendment curriculum modules help educators enrich and supplement their existing instruction on First Amendment and freedom of expression issues in middle and high school classrooms. Explore thefire.org for even more First Amendment educational resources.