Social Justice Education = “Indoctrination” and “Reeducation”

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Do you know what microaggressions are? Have you ever been in a situation where you were tracking disparities in privilege? Have you ever thought about triggers and the ways you tend to respond to them? Do you understand what white privilege is and why every single white American benefits from it? Do you understand the concept of patriarchy, the way that our society continues to be male-dominated, male-identified, and male-centered? Have you ever stopped to consider the heteronormativity of our society and the way same-sex couples are often condemned for doing the very same things opposite-sex couples do all the time?

Chances are, a lot of the concepts in the above paragraph might be somewhat new to you, and I think that’s totally unfortunate. The important thing to understand is that nothing in that paragraph represents an ideology. It’s social science. It’s an enhanced understanding of the dynamics of identity in our society. More and more, these cultural competencies are recognized as essential skills for educators so that they can better support and respond to the diverse perspectives their students bring into the classroom.

The University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, is among the universities adding these concepts to their teacher education program. As part of their Teacher Education Redesign Initiative, the task group on Race, Class, Culture, and Gender, has proposed several related outcomes. The following are just a few of these outcomes from the categories of SELF, SELF & OTHERS, SELF & SCHOOLS, and SELF & SOCIETY:

» 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 understand that they are privileged & marginalized depending on context.

» Teachers will demonstrate the capability for consciousness and awareness of actively monitoring one’s behaviors, cultural assumptions, and knowledge around cross-cultural interactions. It also reflects a level of cultural strategizing during cross-cultural interactions.

» Teachers demonstrate the ability to direct attention and energy toward learning and functioning in culturally diverse situations. It refers to the extent to which teachers are confident about their ability to engage in cross-cultural interactions and the extent to which they find intrinsic satisfaction in these interactions. In other words, it is the extent to which a teacher has the intrinsic drive to learn, perceive, and adapt to culturally diverse students and their culturally complex circumstances.

» Future teachers are able to explain how institutional racism works in schools.

» Future teachers can articulate how schools is a process of social and cultural reproduction.

» Future teachers create & fight for social justice even if it’s just in their classroom – avoiding common and often inappropriate use of suspensions and referrals to special education.

» 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

There’s a lot of good stuff in there. As an educator myself, I’m quite impressed with the U’s expectations for their future teachers. American meritocracy is a myth that maintains the hegemony of male and white dominance over society (and let’s not even get into capitalism). It is the myth itself that is the ideology, not the understandings that undermine it.

Enter Katherine Kersten. You may recall her absolutely brilliant reduction of the many (flawed) arguments against same-sex marriage. (If you don’t, click here to read my thorough debunking of it.) She caught wind of the U’s efforts and wrote another brilliant column attacking it.

She gets her bias out of the way right off the bat:

Do you believe in the American dream — the idea that in this country, hardworking people of every race, color and creed can get ahead on their own merits? If so, that belief may soon bar you from getting a license to teach in Minnesota public schools — at least if you plan to get your teaching degree at the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus.

If you know anything about white privilege (I confess to not knowing as much as I should myself), you know that statement is dripping in it. The basic assumption that everybody has the same access to opportunity regardless of dimensions of identity is so ignorant it boggles my mind that people get away with publishing such ideas in major newspapers these days. But sure enough, that’s what she thinks and there she is in print. You can read her scathing article to see the full extent of her misguided views, but here’s one little fun variation of Godwin’s Law she spins:

The first step toward “cultural competence,” says the task group, is for future teachers to recognize — and confess — their own bigotry. Anyone familiar with the reeducation camps of China’s Cultural Revolution will recognize the modus operandi.

She goes on to quote a lot of the same objectives I quoted above, but draws a different conclusion:

After indoctrination of this kind, who wouldn’t conclude that the American Dream of equality for all is a cruel hoax?

No indoctrination at all, ma’am. It’s just a more enlightened perspective than you seem to have.

But Katherine Kersten is not the only person FIREd up about this. The good old Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is now involved. Sometimes I respect what The FIRE stands for, but a lot of times not. Protecting Christian student groups from having to abide by sexual orientation non-discrimination clauses doesn’t win you a lot of points in my book. Neither does being the feature topic of an article on WorldNetDaily.

Adam Kissel, an “officer” of The FIRE, is not a happy camper:

“If the Race, Culture, Class, and Gender Task Group achieves its stated goals, the result will be political and ideological screening of applicants, remedial re-education for those with the ‘wrong’ views and values, [and] withholding of degrees from those upon whom the university’s political reeducation efforts proved ineffective.”

By any “non-totalitarian” standards, he wrote, the the plans being made so far by the school are “severely unjust and impermissibly intrude into matters of individual conscience.”

I don’t know, but I don’t think the right to be narrow-minded is a right of individual conscience. The mere fact that people pursue degrees in education means that they are, in fact, seeking to learn. The competencies listed above and the others proposed are not indoctrination, but rather unindoctrination, an education that broadens and deepens people’s understandings of the world around them. And it is an education that will have huge positive impacts on the the teachers those students become.

The bottom line is: you can’t teach others if you don’t understand yourself and the role you play in society. That’s what social justice education is really all about. There is no political ideology at stake here, despite what The FIRE seems to think.

Social justice education is scary, because, as I said, it often undoes what many people have wrongly learned over the course of their lives. But just because it is new knowledge and results in cognitive dissonance does not make it wrong, disagreeable, or indoctrination.

I am proud to be a social justice educator, and I commend the University of Minnesota for offering challenging expectations for the future educators they are training. I surely hope they do not let these paranoid know-it-all conservatives intimidate them into backing down from teaching a quality curriculum that would produce incredibly qualified educators.

Teacher Education Redesign Initiative
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There are 5 Comments to "Social Justice Education = “Indoctrination” and “Reeducation”"

  • julie says:

    hey zack… very interesting!  i am currently in the teacher education program at ucla and the program has been committed to a social justice education for years.  every class we take, method we’re taught, etc., is examined through a social justice lens.  it is making all the difference in my education, and i really cannot imagine that teachers are NOT receiving this type of education.  it is so vitally important!

  • ZackFord says:

    Absolutely! I always like to describe it as helping students step outside the Matrix… see what the world looks like beyond the way they’ve always seen and experienced it. I have actually taught many of the lessons outlined in the proposed outcomes and watched students grow in very short amounts of time, so I know the difference they can make. 😀

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  • Matthew Williams says:

    I just stumbled upon this and, I have to say, it is good to see that we’re not in this alone.  Frankly, watching this FIRE group dupe a lot of people who have bought, hook line and sinker into their argument w/out ever really questioning where it was coming from has been painful to watch.  These arguments have gone forward w/out any sort of resistance it seems (even the Chronicle itself used FIRE’s stance as it’s primary source w/out ever considering they might not be so ideologically pure after all…).  It has been a well coordinated sucker-punch from the start.

  • ZackFord says:

    Absolutely, Matthew! I am astonished to see how quiet higher ed professionals are content to be on issues of social justice. Stay strong! Just because people don’t like to reminded the world isn’t as pretty as the small one they live in doesn’t mean it’s not good curriculum to be teaching!

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