Thought control at Teachers’ College

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is calling on Columbia University’s Teachers College to abandon its “ideological litmus tests” for students.

Teachers College’s Conceptual Framework, which represents the “philosophy for teacher education at Teachers College,” requires students to possess a “commitment to social justice.” Moreover, students are expected to recognize that “social inequalities are often produced and perpetuated through systematic discrimination and justified by societal ideology of merit, social mobility, and individual responsibility.”

So merit, social mobility and individual responsibility are bad things?

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  1. Indigo Warrior says:

    “Social inequalities are often produced and perpetuated through systematic discrimination and justified by societal ideology of merit, social mobility, and individual responsibility.”

    So merit, social mobility and individual responsibility are bad things?

    I think what the Teachers’ College was trying to say was that the ideology (of merit, etc.) is a bad thing. A most charitable interpretation is: hypocrites that preach “merit, social mobility, and individual responsibility” while not being meritous, mobile, and responsible themselves, and who profit from social inequalities, are bad.

    If so, they could have made it more clearer. My view is that they were simply covering their collective butts – they wanted to denounce merit and related values, but not too loudly.

  2. Richard Nieporent says:

    Teachers College’s Conceptual Framework, which represents the “philosophy for teacher education at Teachers College,” requires students to possess a “commitment to social justice.”

    Why bother to teach when it is so much easier to indoctrinate.

  3. A charitable interpretation different from Indigo Warrior’s:

    Throughout history, people have defined merit (both intentionally and un- ) so that their own social group comes out on top. For example, I recently read that Western anthropologists long believed that mesoamerican civilizations had very primitive metalworking skills. But recent studies show that the anthropologists were assuming that good metallurgy optimized hardness, since Western metallurgy does. It turns out that the mesoamericans had a very well developed metallurgy that optimized flexibility. (That’s off the top of my head. The details may be off, but the basic point is there. It’s from Mann’s _1491_.)

    When you realize how pervasive this is, you can’t help but realize that you’re probably doing the same thing. The solution is not to abandon the idea of merit–since we can’t help but value some things over others–but to be willing to think self-critically about your standards of merit, to choose values that most empower others, and to regard your values in a slightly more tentative way than before–simultaneously believing in them and realizing that you believe as you do because of the particular time and place into which you were born.

    It’s what F. Scott Fitzgerald meant when he praised “the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

  4. Indigo Warrior says:

    Rob Lucas:
    The solution is not to abandon the idea of merit–since we can’t help but value some things over others–but to be willing to think self-critically about your standards of merit, to choose values that most empower others, and to regard your values in a slightly more tentative way than before–simultaneously believing in them and realizing that you believe as you do because of the particular time and place into which you were born.

    To be able to consciously recognize your own assumptions is half the battle.

    But you also have to recognize the assumptions of others. In some cases, they have an honest sense of merit which may simply be different. In other cases, envy and sour-grapes may hide behind “diversity” and “giving the underdog a chance.”

  5. Social inequalities are also produced by those who use trendy catch-phrases to avoid the actual transmission of knowledge that might actually turn out to be useful, and who encourage a sense of resentment and fatalistic hopelessness that deters individuals from making an effort.

  6. “you also have to recognize the assumptions of others”

    Definitely. This point reminds me of the book “Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts” by Sam Wineburg, who’s a prof at Stanford Ed School. He studies how historians read primary texts vs. novices. The novices take everyone on their own terms. The historians read on multiple levels–literal meaning, intended implications, unintentional betrayal of assumptions, etc.

    I want to add to my original post that while I like this way of thinking, I’m not comfortable with it as a litmus test. We should set society’s goals through politics. Doing it through schools while bypassing the will of the people is undemocratic.

  7. Interesting point about the MesoAmerican metalsmiths, Rob…whatever their metallurgical technicaues, however, I’d bet that these guys value hard work, craftsmanship, and attention to detail–exactly the kind of values at which many of today’s “educators” sneer.

  8. Hmmmm. Are my trackbacks getting caught in your spam filter?

  9. Richard Nieporent says:

    The following are some of the highlights (lowlights?) from their Conceptual Framework.

    We see teaching as an ethical and political act.

    Schools and society are interconnected. Social inequalities are often produced and perpetuated through systematic discrimination and justified by societal ideology of merit, social mobility, and individual responsibility (Strum & Guinier, 1996). Traditionally organized schools help to reproduce social inequalities while giving the illusion that such inequalities are natural and fair. Schools purport to offer unlimited possibilities for social advancement but they simultaneously maintain structures that severely limit the probability of advancement for those at the bottom of the social scale (Labaree, 1997). Research has shown that the majority of teachers in the United States are European American and middle class (Kaelin, 1999) and that many of these teachers do not see the invisible yet profound social forces at work that bring about inequality among different cultural groups in society and in schools (Duesterberg, 1999; Fine, 1986; King, 1991).

    To change the system and make schools and societies more equitable, educators must recognize ways in which taken-for-granted notions regarding the legitimacy of the social order are flawed, see change agency as a moral imperative, and have skills to act as agents of change (Villegas & Lucas, 2002). They need to expand their reading of texts and symbols embedded in their social practices and institutions to uncover how they protect privilege and undermine democracy (Shannon, 1993).

    This is nothing but a political manifesto that attacks the basic concepts that are the foundation of our society. They don’t believe in education, only in indoctrination. They look upon all of the ideals they we hold dear such as merit and individual responsibility as being bourgeois. They see the legitimacy of the existing social order as flawed and take it as their moral imperative to change it. They want to train their students to be revolutionaries to do away with the social order so that we can all live in their socialist utopia. Down with the White middle class. Up with the proletariat. This proves once again that no matter how thoroughly discredited an idea is, it will still live on in academia.

  10. “Merit” and “individual responsibility” have been considered fighting words in the universe of leftist orthodoxy for as long as I can remember. These ideas don’t fit well with the hoary notions of Marxist class struggle.

  11. Wayne Martin says:

    > This is nothing but a political manifesto
    > that attacks the basic concepts that are
    > the foundation of our society.

    Excellent posting and summary.

  12. Another target of leftist multiculturalist ed schools is the notion of progress, which is the belief that western civilization has been improving since its rise from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and into modern times. My cultural diversity prof detested the idea that European and American culture had progressed because it meant that other cultures were inferior and had not kept up with western advances. To be consistent with her anti-Eurocentric ideology, I would imagine that if she had cancer, she would seek the care of a Chinese herbal doctor or shaman instead of that of an oncologist from, say, Cedars Sinai.

  13. Indigo Warrior says:

    Another target of leftist multiculturalist ed schools is the notion of progress, which is the belief that western civilization has been improving

    Leftists are reactionaries at heart, and elitists of the worst kind. They despise progress, and wish to return to a hereditary non-meritocratic feudal ruling class.

    To be consistent with her anti-Eurocentric ideology, I would imagine that if she had cancer, she would seek the care of a Chinese herbal doctor or shaman instead of that of an oncologist from, say, Cedars Sinai.

    Or how about an old tyme English herbalist?