Yesterday, I spent too much time poking at a troll with a sharp stick in the discussion following K.C. Johnson’s essay, “Disposition for Bias,” appearing at Inside Higher Ed.
I think an accurate summary of Johnson’s argument looks like this (let me know if you think I’m being unfair):
Recent surveys have demonstrated that most higher education faculty are liberal. “[T]he facultyís ideological imbalance has allowed three factors ó a new accreditation policy, changes in how students are evaluated, and curricular orientation around a theme of ‘social justice’ ó to impose a de facto political litmus test on the next cohort of public school teachers.”
I.1 Many colleges (or divisions) of education have the phrase “social justice” in the descriptive language to be found on their websites.
I.2 Although “social justice” could be interpreted to mean different things, the fact that faculty are liberal must mean that teachers are being indoctrinated to accept only liberal ideas of “social justice.”
II.1 Criteria used to evaluate future teachers now include a category called “dispositions.”
II.2 One conference described this category as a way to train ìteachers who possess knowledge and discernment of what is good or virtuous.î
II.3 Although “good and virtuous” could be interepreted to mean different things by different people, the fact that faculty are liberal must mean that teachers are being indoctrinated to accept only liberal ideas of “what is good or virtuous.”
III.1 The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education guidelines require education programs that include social justice as essential to their programs to measure their students’ commitment to social justice.
III.2 The fact that most faculty are liberal must mean that teachers are being evaluated according to a liberal understanding of what social justice means.
IV. One example from Brooklyn College is used as an exemplar of nationwide trends. As with many such examples brought up by conservative critics of higher education, this one involves Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11.
The concerns I have about this essay are pretty straightforward:
- On Johnson’s faculty website is a list of a little over 3 dozen examples of education college websites that indicate “social justice” is a goal of their programs. How was this sample constructed? What percentage of the total number of such programs in America does this sample represent? How prestigious are these programs? How many educators do these programs produce every year?
- Points I.2, II.3, and III.2 are hypotheses that we could test with available data. Look at the syllabi being used in teacher preparation classes. What do they reveal about what’s actually taking place in the classroom? Additionally, why not survey the students of these programs in a systematic way to ask them about their experience? Does any data like this exist?
In the comments, I pointed out that a study (PDF) completed by the conservative American Enterprise Institute provides data complicating the picture painted by Johnson and perhaps contradicts the conclusions in the essay. The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required) puts it this way:
[The report] analyzed a national cross section of 31 principal-preparation programs and reviewed more than 200 course syllabi, covering almost 2,500 weeks of courses. They found that only about 12 percent of the course weeks focused on exposing principal candidates to different educational and pedagogical philosophies, to debates about the nature and purpose of public schooling, and to examinations of the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic context of education.
At this point, it was game on for “Art,” who identifies himself as a “Graduate Student at Midwest university.” If you cut through all the snark and ad hominem attacks, it looks like Art’s main objection is that principal preparation and teacher preparation are so different, that to bring up a report on the former is irrelevant to the latter.
However, principal preparation programs and teacher preparation programs take place within the very same colleges and divisions of education. So why would the high-minded language about “social justice” that these colleges and divisions put on their websites result in liberal indoctrination in one program and not in the other? My requests for clarification were ignored.
I pointed out that the AEI study was a detailed survey of a great deal of data reflecting what actually takes place in the classrooms of principal preparation programs, and I asked if there was any similar data regarding teacher preparation. Art asserted, angrily for some reason, that this data does not exist.
One would think that at this point, Art would realize he’d just taken the legs out from under his own belief in the liberal indoctrination of teachers. But no, he seems to think he’s won the argument. He throws in a great deal of rant about John Kerry, for good measure. (You see, the problem with Kerry and his followers is that they lack sufficient honesty. Unlike, you know, Bush.) And he seems to think calling me a zombie is a particularly clever insult. Gee, I hope that nickname doesn’t stick.
Here’s what I contributed to that thread . . .
“So let’s just say that education programs do lean left?
“Is anyone going to deny that MBA programs, for example, lean right? Different industries attract different demographic and ideological profiles of both students and educators. Education has typically been a hallmark of liberal platforms, so I, for one, am neither surprised nor unhappy that social justice is frequently a major component of their core values.
“But I don’t see anyone bitching about the absence of social justice language in business school mission statements, either . . .”
(Well, I bitch about it, but not very loudly.)
And “Art” is a jerk