SHORT TAKES


December 15, 2009

The Minnesota Case---An Institutional Diagnosis

KC Johnson has spoken well of the Minnesota teacher education initiative, and his analysis of the op-ed by the dean of the College of Education, Jean Quam, identified the thorough disregard of claims of indoctrination made by columnist Katherine Kersten in the Star-Tribune. Quam's defense is so feeble and misleading, in fact, that it deserves more scrutiny.

Just compare her summary statements about the initiative's "diversity awareness" aims with actual statements made in the "Race, Class, Culture, Gender" report posted on the Minnesota blog on September 14th.

Regarding the focus on "issues of race, class, culture, and gender," Quam says, "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 reasonable word "acknowledging," an action that doesn't prescribe how you acknowledge the issues and what judgments you make about them.

But one "OUTCOME" of the "Race, Class, Culture, Gender" report extends far beyond acknowledgement:

"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."

In case anyone believes that "drawing on notions of white privilege etc." leaves open the possibility that one might conclude that "white privilege" is a mistaken, tendentious, errant, or irrelevant notion, another "OUTCOME" allows no such answer:

"Future teachers will recognize & demonstrate understanding of white privilege."

That insistence gives the lie to Quam's reassurance that "We value diversity and encourage exploration of all viewpoints and ideologies."

Quam also cites research findings that "teachers need to understand that teaching encompasses a range of knowledge and skills, including the teaching of subject matter, shaping teaching processes to build on cultural repertoires and varying abilities of students, and collaboration with other professionals and parents."

Well, sure, but compare that unobjectionable premise to an actual "ASSESSMENT" in the report: "Teachers first have to discover their own privilege, oppression, or marginalization and also are able to describe their cultural identity."

Those outcomes and assessments lay bare the effort to get inside future teachers' heads and "re-educate" them on ideological identitarian grounds.

Why, then, would a high-ranking administrator in a high-profile university reveal to the public such a transparent whitewash of the whole enterprise? More than that, why would a committee of professors at "the premier public research institution in the state" (Quam's words) produce such a hot-headed, resentment-ridden, identity-politics report that would wither under the slightest public scrutiny?

I think it has to do with the institutional conditions in which this report was produced, conditions that are largely opaque to people who have never served on an academic committee or attended a close academic meeting.

The "Race, Class, Culture, Gender" report is an in-your-face, up-front determination about U.S. history and society. Beneath its relentless framework of "privilege" and "oppression" lies a firm adversarial posture. "Lots of Americans out there don't recognize these things," the authors declare, "but here you will."

But alongside the contentious, adversarial attitude is a remarkable circumstance: there are no adversaries and contenders in the room. Nobody on this committee stood up and said, "I don't think we should emphasize racial identity so much in our review." The committee didn't ask a believer in the old-fashioned American idea that you can become anything in the United States if you work hard and live wisely to come into the room and state the case. Everybody agreed on the priority of cultural, racial, sexual, and gender variables to all others (moral, psychological, etc.).

We don't know what went on behind closed doors, of course, but the report doesn't contain a whisper of skepticism or caution. It proceeds with all the confidence of collective wisdom. This is the fatal ingredient of all-too-many academic enterprises. They emerge out of a habitat of the like-minded, a gathering of 100% right-thinking personnel. That outsiders would recoil from their assertions probably didn't occur to the report's authors. Or rather, they expected conservatives, reactionaries, and various unenlightened ones to take umbrage, but they believed that the patent goodness of their motives and aims would prevail.

It can't happen, not in an open society. The fact that the dean of the program has to defend the initiative with thin mendacities signals the corruption at its heart. One hopes, as KC says, that the legislature in Minnesota will take heed of how state employees are meeting their duties.

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