The Minnesota Re-Education of Educators

Readers of Education Next may have heard about recent developments of the Teacher Education Redesign Initiative at the University of Minnesota.  It’s a project of the College of Education at the University to revise the training of teachers, and it has infuriated conservative, libertarian, and First Amendment groups (see, for instance, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s response to the project).  Among the elements of the process is the Task Force for Race, Culture, Class, and Gender, which issued its recommendations here back in September.

The Outcomes of the document read like a parody of academic identity politics, but they stand loud and clear in black and white.  They include:

  • “Our future teachers will be able to discuss their own histories and current thinking drawing on notions of white privilege, hegemonic masculinity, heteronormativity, and internalized oppression”
  • “Future teachers will recognize & demonstrate understanding of white privilege”
  • “Future teachers will understand the importance of cultural identity and develop a positive sense of racial/cultural identity”
  • “Future teachers are able to explain how institutional racism works in schools”
  • “Our future teachers will be able to construct and articulate a sophisticated and nuanced critical analysis of this story of America, for what it illuminates and what it hides or distorts.  In pursuing this analysis, students will make use of, among other concepts and theories, the following:
    • myth of meritocracy in the United States
    • historical connections between scientific racism, intelligence testing, and assumptions of fixed mental capacity
    • alternative explanations for mobility (and lack of it)
    • history of demands for assimilation to white, middle-class, Christian meanings and values
    • history of white racism, with special focus on current colorblind ideology”

Needless to say, this is a conception of education that requires certain ideological commitments.  It doesn’t just try to inform aspiring teachers about American history and society and their complicated racial/sexual/etc. aspects.  No, it asks aspiring teachers to adopt a simmering, resentment-ridden conception of both, and it does so by reaching into their minds and asking them to interrogate who they are and what they feel and how they act.

One of the most troubling aspects of the situation is the op-ed written in defense of the program by the Dean of the College of Education, Jean K. Quam.  It appeared in the Star-Tribune after columnist Katherine Kersten attacked it as anti-American and coercive.  While the Race, Culture, Class, Gender report demanded that future teachers adopt the “white-privilege,” “oppression and marginalization” understanding of American society, Dean Quam cast it this way,

“Kersten’s primary concern is that the initiative addresses the reality of how issues of race, class, culture and gender play out in classrooms and affect student achievement. Her position is that discussion of these issues equates to indoctrination. Our belief is that acknowledging these issues is essential to teacher and student success and that ignoring them will not make them go away.”

Note the verb here, “acknowledging.”  Would anybody believe that the “Outcomes” listed above stop at acknowledgment?  Not at all.  They don’t ask future teachers merely to acknowledge forms of racism and the like.  If they did, they would allow for teachers to ponder the notion of, say, “white privilege” and determine that it plays a negligible role in Minnesota classrooms today.  The Task Force allows no such independent conclusions.  Indeed, one of the “Assessments” of the Outcomes asks students to compose a “self-discovery paper” in which they “identify three of their personal motives (desires, needs) that are potentially beneficial and three that are potentially harmful, and discuss how they might affect their teaching.”  It is hard to imagine a more manipulative exercise.

Here’s another statement of Quam’s, this in response to Kersten’s allegation that the vision of American history is a bilious litany of racism etc.: “We do not take a narrow view of who is an American and who can achieve the dream. We expect and require that teachers of the next half-century take a broad, balanced view of that dream.”

“Broad and balanced.”  Again, who would read the report and believe that the drafters would accept a student who said, “Yes, racism is a part of our history, but it has declined in marvelous ways, and does not have a formative effect on students”?

This is to say that the head of education at the leading teacher-training university in the state has offered a misleading, dishonest version of what is going on behind closed doors on the campus.  We can conclude two things.  One, if Quam genuinely believes that the report allows for multiple understandings of American history and society, then she has spent way too much time among the hot-heated identity politicians on campus, so much so that her judgment is critically distorted.  Or two, if Quam thinks that the report does coerce students into one ideological perspective, then her aim is to provide cover for it, not recognizing that her final responsibility is not to Minnesota ed school professors but to the citizens of the State of Minnesota.

Either way, the episode signifies something rotten in the state of the ed school, and it must be opposed.

NB: In Spring 2007, Ed Next published a history of efforts to adjust teachers attitudes (“Return of the Thought Police,” by Laurie Moses Hines).

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