"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Protecting the Rights of Racists to Become Teachers

The foundations classes that I teach begin with an introduction to the study of ethics, and one of the texts we use is the NEA Code of Ethics of the Teaching Profession. The Code has this Preamble that we read and discuss:
The educator, believing in the worth and dignity of each human being, recognizes the supreme importance of the pursuit of truth, devotion to excellence, and the nurture of the democratic principles. Essential to these goals is the protection of freedom to learn and to teach and the guarantee of equal educational opportunity for all. The educator accepts the responsibility to adhere to the highest ethical standards.

The educator recognizes the magnitude of the responsibility inherent in the teaching process. The desire for the respect and confidence of one's colleagues, of students, of parents, and of the members of the community provides the incentive to attain and maintain the highest possible degree of ethical conduct. The Code of Ethics of the Education Profession indicates the aspiration of all educators and provides standards by which to judge conduct.

The remedies specified by the NEA and/or its affiliates for the violation of any provision of this Code shall be exclusive and no such provision shall be enforceable in any form other than the one specifically designated by the NEA or its affiliates.

And then it has two Principles, the first one dealing with Commitment to the Student and the second aimed at Commitment to the Profession. Here is the first that become central in a number of hairy cases that constitute the core of the ethics part of the course:
Commitment to the Student
The educator strives to help each student realize his or her potential as a worthy and effective member of society. The educator therefore works to stimulate the spirit of inquiry, the acquisition of knowledge and understanding, and the thoughtful formulation of worthy goals.

In fulfillment of the obligation to the student, the educator--

1. Shall not unreasonably restrain the student from independent action in the pursuit of learning.
2. Shall not unreasonably deny the student's access to varying points of view.
3. Shall not deliberately suppress or distort subject matter relevant to the student's progress.
4. Shall make reasonable effort to protect the student from conditions harmful to learning or to health and safety.
5. Shall not intentionally expose the student to embarrassment or disparagement.
6. Shall not on the basis of race, color, creed, sex, national origin, marital status, political or religious beliefs, family, social or cultural background, or sexual orientation, unfairly--
a. Exclude any student from participation in any program
b. Deny benefits to any student
c. Grant any advantage to any student
7. Shall not use professional relationships with students for private advantage.
8. Shall not disclose information about students obtained in the course of professional service unless disclosure serves a compelling professional purpose or is required by law.

Why do I bother to print this part of the NEA Code here? Isn’t it enough that I provide this statement (that I try to live by) as the footing for the ethical foundation that prospective teachers build during my course? It would be enough, perhaps, and not worth posting if there were not now a committed group of right-wing crackpots on the loose who view these ethical values as unimportant for evaluating the readiness of prospective teachers. Yes, these are the same crackpots, now supported by Federal education policy, who would prefer to dismantle, or blow up, teacher education programs entirely.

For those still wondering what I am talking about, there is now emerging (see Chronicle article here) a full-blown neo-con fatwah on education professional schools and the emphasis by these schools on dispositions (ethical values) to which teacher candidates are expected to adhere as they prepare to become teachers.

Particularly loathsome and oppressive to oppressed white protestants (who, we may recall, control both bodies of Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court) is the emphasis on values such as “social justice.” It is particularly galling, the tirade goes, to have the liberal university language police who now run schools of education to offer any reminder to teacher candidates that skin tone might carry with it some small social or economic implication, or that there are parts of our national past and present that are not so sunny in terms of the treatment of the darker folk.

In fact, these neo-con critics, in their perennial role as anti-cultural and uni-social nitwits, view the honest treatment of the factual past as a liberal plot to demoralize the white race. What is at stake, of course, is the possibility that teacher candidates actually become conscious of racial history, which might lead some of these, otherwise, color blind co-eds to acknowledge that there are, indeed, parts of their “heritage” that might dampen their unquestioning celebration of white pride. You know, the plantation was not just a place for sipping mint juleps—but, rather, the foundational institution for American economic power in the 19th Century.

As part of my permanent atonement for being a southerner, I watch Jerry Falwell on Sunday morning when I go back home on visits. Falwell is old hand in the school history wars, and recently I heard him share with the TV flock his outrage that school history texts discuss Jefferson’s ownership of slaves. Forever blind to any sense of irony, Falwell would rather see Jefferson remembered, not as a slaveholder, but for his commitment to individual rights, which would seem to include freedom of thought and expression and belief. Except in school, of course, where Falwell and the cons prefer the indoctrination of children in meaningless platitudes intended to blind future citizens to what has made them blind.

What has brought on the current war on “dispositions?” And what are these dispositions?:
In the 2002 edition of its guidebook on professional standards, the [NCATE (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education)] detailed the kind of learning it expects, including the kind of professional dispositions it believes students need. Dispositions, the booklet says, are the "values, commitments, and professional ethics that influence behaviors toward students, families, colleagues, and communities." They "are guided by beliefs and attitudes related to values such as caring, fairness, honesty, responsibility, and social justice."
Dangerous stuff. We know now that the current war on the dangerous value of social justice is part of the much broader intrusion into higher ed that hopes to establish ideological quotas to guarantee the untrammeled presence of the endangered, exploited, and oppressed white male protestant conservative patriotic-by-lapel-pin position in every nook and cranny of the university. If there were any doubt that this is a core unacknowledged reason for Maggie’s new Commission on High Ed, have a look at these remarks by Lamar Alexander, who was purportedly at the Nashville meeting of the Commission to talk about science and math education:
Alexander said funding for colleges is threatened by a "growing political one-sidedness" on many campuses that doesn't allow for more conservative ideas.

"How many conservative speakers are invited to deliver commencement addresses? How many colleges require courses in U.S. history? How many even teach Western Civilization? ... Those are politically unacceptable topics," the Tennessee Republican testified.

Alexander, a former U.S. Secretary of Education and former president of the University of Tennessee, said colleges need to bring in more speakers and academics "with a different point of view from the prevailing point of view.

"I know it's the single biggest criticism I hear of higher education, because I'm always the one saying 'Let's have more money for colleges and universities,' " Alexander said. "The biggest thing I get thrown back in my face is, 'They're politically one-sided. Why should I support them?'"

Is the battle against inclusive factual history and social justice dispositions having any effect? Sure enough—in a spineless acquiescence to the anti-political-correctness political correctors, NCATE has quickly folded up on the issue and issued an urgent bulletin. I wonder if this what the NCATE chiefs meant at the Washington meeting that I attended when they talked about plans for closer ties with the federal government?Again, from the Chronicle:
Last month, in the midst of the controversy, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education sent a bulletin to the 614 programs it accredits, saying that education schools should not evaluate students' attitudes, but rather assess their dispositions based on "observable behavior in the classroom." It also said it does "not expect or require institutions to attend to any particular political or social ideologies."

Beliefs, values, philosophy, or ethical commitments don’t matter any more unless we observe them after they are allowed to do damage in the classroom? If a teacher can teach math, it does not matter if she is an avowed skinhead, fascist, or a dangerous liberal? NCATE has, then, just attempted to acknowledge the meaninglessness of a foundational element of what this foundations prof has committed his professional life to. Sorry, NCATE, and I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but—go the Hell.

By the way, did you ever wonder how it happened in Germany? Perfect example—the whores in higher ed were some of the first to fold.

Jim Horn


  1. The Teacher of Teachers
    -- Harold O. Rugg

    This is a book about the Teacher of Teachers in America, and this is the principal thesis:

    Theoretically, in a democratic society, the Teacher of Teachers should prove to be a man whose resources match the penalties of leadership. In a dynamic society he is the chosen change agent, the clear guide for the culture molding process. Potentially, I say, he is one of the true creatives of the people.

    It is a central premise of my book, therefore, that in the tumultuous scene of the next twenty-five years, the Teacher of Teachers can and must take his proper place among he creative leaders of western culture. To most of our people this will sound like wishful thinking; to some it will seem silly. The Teacher of Teachers--a national leader! In the average community he is but a faint echo of the practical men who regard him as a nonentity and tell him what not to teach. To their cloistered spokesmen in the liberal arts colleges he is uncouth and illiterate, dumb in the company of Latinists, the scorned foster-child of the graduate school. Can this embarrassed barbarian become the pilot guiding us surely through the storms of our day?

    Yes, he can, and will. My premise emerges straight from the logic of our needs, a review of the competencies of men today, and the hearkening instances of educational leaders living in our midst. This book is primarily an effort to hold before the Teacher of Teachers a mirror that will awaken in him a consciousness of his destiny.

    It becomes inevitable if we are to prevent our democracy from turning into a fascist state that the schools and colleges must become public forums on public issues.

    But this is the task of education, and the Teacher of Teachers is the only potential leader on the horizon who can promptly make himself competent to guide this public process. He is the only man among us with the needed combination of competencies.

    The evidence of recent American history denies, however, that they will welcome the use of the schools and colleges as forums for controversial discussion. But the leaders in the foundations of education, and some astute students of government, have long known that government in a democratic society cannot stop short of education itself. Government must include the collective study, discussion, and decision of men concerning thier public affairs, and that is a day-by-day self-educative process. In a democracy government and education are synonymous.

  2. That last sentence stopped me cold. It could be said just as appropriately of a fascist state.

    "Teachers of Teachers" are just one group among many. Don't overstate their influence.

    There will always be racists; some of them will be teachers. Students aren't such sheep they won't notice them!