Teacher Re-Education Scandal at University of Minnesota Gains Steam

November 30, 2009

Last week, FIRE wrote University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (U of M) President Robert H. Bruininks about the proposed political and ideological litmus test for future teachers at U of M’s College of Education and Human Development. The college intends to mandate particular beliefs and values“dispositions and commitments”for future teachers. These are not just things like the disposition to deal with classroom discipline, but demands that future teachers demonstrate “cultural competence” as defined by the college’s Race, Culture, Class, and Gender Task Group.

The college even intends to redesign its admissions process so that it screens out people with the “wrong” beliefs and values as well as those who either do not have sufficient “cultural competence” or who the college judges will not be able to be converted to the “correct” beliefs and valueseven after remedial re-education. As I noted last week, if put into practice, these mandates would violate the freedom of conscience of the university’s students. As a public university bound by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, U of M is both legally and morally obligated to uphold this fundamental right.

FIRE first heard about the program in September, when an anonymous source alerted us to the documentation online (here is FIRE’s copy). After Katherine Kersten broke the story last week and we wrote our letter, a new blog post appeared on the website of the college’s Teacher Education Redesign Initiative, reading:

The documents posted on this blog are not policy, but a set of working ideas brought forward by groups of faculty, staff, and P-12 educators for discussion about the redesign of our teacher education programs.

This is not the truth. While the plans contained in the documents have not yet been implemented, they are being acted upon in other capacities. For example, the college has already put its ideas into a proposal to The Bush Foundation (posted on that blog). In fact, the college has already been working out “Phase II” since October, involving “recommendations for moving forward on structural dimensions of the teacher preparation programs.” The Bush Phase II proposal shows that the college is actively working towards its “Vision for the Future,” which includes a “[g]uarantee of graduate effectiveness” stating in part that “[t]eachers will display appropriate dispositions and commitments.” The only full explanation of these “appropriate dispositions and commitments” comes from the Race, Culture, Class, and Gender Task Group’s elaboration of “cultural competence.” (See FIRE’s letter for the details, and see pp. 30-34 of the proposal for the full set of plans, including timelines.) According to the Bush Phase II proposal, the college is already “[i]n anticipation of significant curricular and program structure changes,” and Fall 2010 will include this milestone:

New disposition assessment in place as admissions criteria for candidates applying with Dec. 2010 deadlines (for summer 2011 entry)

It also seems that after Kersten started asking questions, the college made a few edits to the Race, Culture, Class, and Gender Task Group’s “Final Report.” While the July 16, 2009, version is advertised as the “final” version, the November 21 version was given this new header:

DRAFT. NOT FOR DISTRIBUTION. For discussion uses within the College of Education and Human Development TERI project only.

Too late! Also, for the record, the new version corrected some typos and rewrote the suggestion of “Perhaps a training session disguised as a thank you/recognition ceremony/reception at the beginning of the year?” because, as the later version states, “There was no deception planned or intended as may be implied in the use of the word.” (Sure.)

In another development, Dean Jean K. Quam has replied to Kersten’s piece with a vapid piece in the Star Tribune (Minneapolis). Quam all but ignores the substantive issues and quotations in Kersten’s piece, but she does admit that “We expect and require that teachers of the next half-century take a broad, balanced view of that dream [‘the American Dream’].” (Emphasis added.)

Quam whitewashes and soft-pedals the requirements in the task force report with language like this:

Under the Teacher Education Redesign Initiative, teacher candidates, regardless of background, will learn how to adapt to diverse learning situations and to diverse learning needs among their students.

But what the task force actually proposes are required dispositions and commitments under the umbrella of “cultural competence,” including “Cultural Intelligence” and “Intercultural Development” tests, as well as assessments regarding “the extent to which they find intrinsic satisfaction” in being in “culturally diverse situations.”

Unfortunately, Quam is largely silent about how proposed requirements like these represent a “broad, balanced view”:

Teachers first have to discover their own privilege, oppression, or marginalization and also are able to describe their cultural identity.

Future teachers will understand the importance of cultural identity and develop a positive sense of racial/cultural identity[.]

Future teachers will recognize that schools are socially constructed systems that are susceptible to racism. That schools and classrooms are often structured in ways that advantage and disadvantage some groups but are also critical sites for social and cultural transformation.

Writings must show awareness that, when minority individuals actively resist and reject the implicit and explicit messages attacking their ethnic identity, educational achievement is negatively impacted….

Future teachers create & fight for social justice.

Every faculty member at our university that trains our teachers must comprehend and commit to the centrality of race, class, culture, and gender issues in teaching and learning, and consequently, frame their teaching and course foci accordingly.

About these blatantly ideological requirements, Quam says nothing except things like: “Our belief is that acknowledging these issues is essential to teacher and student success and that ignoring them will not make them go away.” Yet requiring people to acknowledge issues is one thing. Mandating that they hold certain beliefs is quite another.

Meanwhile, KC Johnson has engaged in research into the faculty members on the task force for Minding the Campus. Johnson notes:

The intellectual interests of the report’s authors not only preview the group’s recommendations but also give a sense of what passes for the ideological mainstream in [e]ducation departments on the nation’s college campuses. The work of Professor Tim Lensmire, who says that he uses the classroom to promote “radical democracy” through embracing “various progressive, feminist, and critical pedagogies,” sets the ideological tone: Lensmire notes that his “current research and writing focus on race and education, and especially on how white people learn to be white in our white supremacist society.” The report’s other authors include Bic Ngo, whose research examines “the ways in which the education of immigrant students are shaped by dynamic power relations as they play out at the intersection(s) of race, ethnicity, class and gender” using “critical, cultural and feminist theories” to explicate “the role(s) of critical multicultural education”; committee chair Michael Goh, whose research explores “multicultural counseling”; and two non-tenure track figures, Mary Beth Kelley and Carole Gupton.

Engaging seriously with various theories is critical to one’s academic work. Yet, demanding, as U of M seems about to do, that students adopt new values, attitudes, and beliefs in the form of “cultural competence” and mandatory “dispositions and commitments” based on that work is constitutionally and morally unacceptable at a public university. We certainly hope that these professors are not already demanding ideological conformity in their classrooms and are not demanding that students adopt the professors’ favorite theories.

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.

Schools:  University of Minnesota – Twin Cities

Cases:  University of Minnesota – Twin Cities: Political Litmus Test for Future Teachers